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BAUDELAIRE: HIS PROSE AND POETRY
Charles Pierre Baude-
laire was born in Paris,
France, on April 9, 1821,
and died there on Au-
gust 31, 1867. Floicers
of Evil was published in
1857 by Baudelaire's
friend Auguste Poulet
Malassis, who had inher-
ited a printing business
at Alengon. Some of
them had already ap-
peared in the Revue deS
Deux Mondes. The poet,
the publisher, and the
printer were found
guilty of having offended
against public morals.
HIS PROSE AND POETRY
Edited by T. R. SMITH
PUBLISHERS ^^SES^I MEW YORK
By BONI & LIVERIGHT, Inc.
Printed in the U.S,A»
Ave Atque Vale. A Poem by A. C. Swinburne . . . i
Charles Baudelaire. A sttidy by F. P. Sturm ... 11
Poems in Prose. Translated by Arthur Symons
The Favours of the Moon 39
Which is True? 40
"L'Invitation au Voyage" 41
The Eyes of the Poor^ 43
Windows . . . . ;^ 45
The Cake 47
Evening Twilight 49
"Anywhere Out of the World" ....... 51
A Heroic Death -53
Be Drunken 57
Poems in Prose. Translated by Joseph T. Shipley
Dedication (To Arsdne Houssaye) 61
A Jester 63
The Dog and the Vial 63
The Wild Woman and the Coquette 64
The Old Mountebank 66
The Clock . 68
A Hemisphere in a Tress . 69
The Plaything of the Poor 70
The Gifts of the Fairies 72
The Lovely Dorothea 77
The Counterfeit 79
The Generous Player 80
The Rope (To Edward Manet) 84
A Thoroughbred 92
The Mirror . ; 93
The Harbor 93
Mistresses' Portraits 94
Soup and the Clouds 98
The Loss of a Halo 99
Mademoiselle Bistoury 100
Let us Flay the Poor 103
Good Dogs (To Mr. Joseph Stevens) 106
Little Poems in Prose. Translated by F. P. Sturm
Every Man His Chimaera 113
Venus and the Fool . > 114
The Double Chamber . . 116
At One o'clock in the Morning 118
The Confiteor of the Artist 120
The Thyrsus (To Franz Liszt) 121
The Marksman lai
The Shooting-range and the Cemetery 123
The Desire to Paint 124
The Glass-vendor /. 125
The Widows 128
The Temptations; or, Eros, Plutos, and Glory . . .131
The Flowers of Evil. Translated by F. P. Sturm
The Dance of Death 137
The Beacons 139
The Sadness of the Moon 141
The Balcony 141
The Sick Muse . 142
The Venal Muse 143
The Evil Monk 143
The Temptation 144
The Irreparable 145
A Former Life 147
Don Juan in Hades 147
The Living Flame 148
The Flask 149
The Eyes of Beauty 151
Sonnet of Autumn 152
The Remorse of the Dead 152
The Ghost 153
To a Madonna 154
The Sky 155
The Owls 156
Bien Loin d'Ici 157
To a Brown Beggar-maid 158
The Swan 160
The Seven Old Men 162
The Little Old Women 164
A Madrigal of Sorrow 167
Mist and Rain 168
The Corpse 169
An Allegory 171
The Accursed 172
La Beatrice 173
The Soul of Wine 174
The Wine of Lovers 175
The Death of Lovers 175
The Death of the Poor 176
Gypsies Travelling 176
Franciscae Meae Laudes 177
A Landscape 178
The Voyage 179
The Flowers of Evil. Translated by W. J. Robertson
111 Luck 192
Ideal Love 193
Hymn to Beauty , 193
Exotic Fragrance 194
Sonnet XVIII 195
The Spiritual Dawn 196
The Flawed Bell 197
Three Poems from Baudelaire. Translated by Richard
A Carcass 201
Weeping and Wandering 203
Intimate Papers from the Unpublished Works of
Baudelaire. Translated by Joseph T. Shipley
Translator's Note 209
My Heart Laid Bare 225
FLOWERS OF EVIL
AVE ATQUE VALE
In Memory of Charles Batidelaire
By Algernon Charles Swinburne
Nous devrions pourtant lui porter quelques fleurs;
Les morts, les pauvres morts, ont de grandes douleurs,
Et quand Octobre souffle, emondeur des vieux arbres.
Son vent melancolique a I'entour de leurs marbres,
Certe, ils doivent trouver les vivants bien ingrats.
Les Fleurs du MaL
Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,
Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?
Or quiet sea-flower moulded by the sea.
Or simplest growth of meadow-sweet or sorrel,
Such as the summer-sleepy Dryads weave,
Waked up by snow-soft sudden rains at eve?
Or wilt thou rather, as on earth before,
Half-faded fiery blossoms, pale with heat
And full of bitter summer, but more sweet
To thee than gleanings of a northern shore
Trod by no tropic feet?
For always thee the fervid languid glories
Allured of heavier suns in mightier skies;
Thine ears knew all the wandering watery sighs
2 AVE ATQUE VALE
Where the sea sobs round Lesbian promontories,
The barren kiss of piteous wave to wave
That knows not where is that Leucadian grave
Which hides too deep the supreme head of song.
Ah, salt and sterile as her kisses were,
The wild sea winds her and the green gulfs bear
Hither and thither, and vex and work her wrong,
Blind gods that cannot spare,
Thou sawest, in thine old singing season, brother.
Secrets and sorrows unbeheld of us:
Fierce loves, and lovely leaf-buds poisonous,
Bare to thy subtler eye, but for none other
Blowing by night in some unbreathed-in clime;
The hidden harvest of luxurious time.
Sin without shape, and pleasure without speech;
And where strange dreams in a tumultuous sleep
Make the shut eyes of stricken spirits weep;
And with each face thou sawest the shadow on each.
Seeing as men sow men reap.
O sleepless heart and sombre soul misleeping,
That were athirst for sleep and no more life
And no more love, for peace and no more strife I
Now the dim gods of death have in their keeping
Spirit and body and all the springs of song,
Is it well now where love can do not wrong,
Where stingless pleasure has no foam or fang
Behind the unopening closure of her lips?
It is not well where soul from body slips
And flesh from bone divides without a pang
As dew from flower-bell drips.
AVE ATQUE VALE
It is enough; the end and the beginning
Are one thing to thee, who are past the end.
O hand unclasped of unbeholden friend,
For thee no fruits to pluck, no palms for winning,
No triumph and no labor and no lust,
Only dead yew-leaves and a little dust.
O quiet eyes wherein the light saith nought,
Whereto the day is dumb, nor any night
With obscure finger silences your sight,
Nor in your speech the sudden soul speaks thought,
Sleep, and have sleep for light.
Now all strange hours and all strange loves are over,
Dreams and desires and sombre songs and sweet,
Hast thou found place at the great knees and feet
Of some pale Titan-woman like a lover.
Such as thy vision here solicited.
Under the shadow of her fair vast head.
The deep division of prodigious breasts,
The solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep,
The weight of awful tresses that still keep
The savor and shade of old-world pine-forests
Where the wet hill- winds weep?
Hast thou found any likeness for thy vision?
O gardener of strange flowers, what bud, what bloom.
Hast thou found sown, what gathered in the gloom?
What of despair, of rapture, of derision,
4 AVE ATQUE VALE
What of life is there, what of ill or good?
Are the fruits gray like dust or bright like blood?
Does the dim ground grow any seed of ours,
The faint fields quicken any terrene root,
In low lands where the sun and moon are mute
And all the stars keep silence? Are there flowers
At all, or any fruit?
Alas, but though my flying song flies after,
O sweet strange elder singer, thy more fleet
Singing, and footprints of thy fleeter feet.
Some dim derision of mysterious laughter
From the blind tongueless warders of the dead.
Some gainless glimpse of Proserpine's veiled head,
Some little sound of unregarded tears
Wept by effaced unprofitable eyes,
And from pale mouths some cadence of dead sighs —
These only, these the hearkening spirit hears,
Sees only such things rise.
Thou art far too far for wings of words to follow,
Far too far off for thought or any prayer.
What ails us with thee, who art wind and air?
What ails us gazing where all seen is hollow?
Yet with some fancy, yet with some desire,
Dreams pursue death as winds a flying fire.
Our dreams pursue our dead and do not find.
Still, and more swift than they, the thin flame flies,
The low light fails us in elusive skies,
Still the foiled earnest ear is deaf, and blind
Are still the eluded eyes.
AVE ATQUE VALE
Not thee, O never thee, in all time's changes,
Not thee, but this the sound of thy sad soul,
The shadow of thy swift spirit, this shut scroll
I lay my hand on, and not death estranges
My spirit from communion of thy song —
These memories and these melodies that throng
Veiled porches of a Muse funereal —
These I salute, these touch, these clasp and fold
As though a hand were in my hand to hold,
Or through mine ears a mourning musical
Of many mourners rolled.
I among these, I also, in such station
As when the pyre was charred, and piled the sods,
And offering to the dead made, and their gods,
The old mourners had, standing to make libation,
I stand, and to the gods and to the dead
Do reverence without prayer or praise, and shed
Offering to these unknown, the gods of gloom,
And what of honey and spice my seedlands bear,
And what I may of fruits in this chilled air,
And lay, Orestes-like, across the tomb
A curl of severed hair.
But by no hand nor any treason stricken,
Not like the low-lying head of Him, the King,
The flame that made of Troy a ruinous thing,
Thou liest and on this dust no tears could quicken
6 AVE ATQUE VALE
There fall no tears like theirs that all men hear
Fall tear by sweet imperishable tear
Down the opening leaves of holy poet's pages.
Thee not Orestes, not Electra mourns;
But bending us-ward with memorial urns
The most high Muses that fulfil all ages
Weep, and our God's heart yearns.
For, sparing of his sacred strength, not often
Among us darkling here the lord of light
Makes manifest his music and his might
In hearts that open and in lips that soften
With the soft flame and heat of songs that shine.
Thy lips indeed he touched with bitter wine,
And nourished them indeed with bitter bread;
Yet surely from his hand thy soul's food came.
The fire that scarred thy spirit at his flame
Was lighted, and thine hungering heart he fed
Who feeds our hearts with fame.
Therefore he too now at thy soul's sunsetting,
God of all suns and songs, he too bends down
To mix his laurel with thy c5TDress crown
And save thy dust from blame and from forgetting.
Therefore he too, seeing all thou wert and art,
Compassionate, with sad and sacred heart,
Mourns thee of many his children the last dead.
And hallows with strange tears and alien sighs
Thine unmelodious mouth and sunless eyes.
And over thine irrevocable head
Sheds light from the under skies.
AVE ATQUE VALE
Ard one weeps with him in the ways Lethean,
And stains with tears her changing bosom chill;
Tiat obscure Venus of the hollow hill,
That thing transformed which was the Cytherean,
With lips that lost their Grecian laugh divine
Long since, and face no more called Erycine
A ghost, a bitter and luxurious god.
Thee also with fair flesh and singing* spell
Did she, a sad and second prey, compel
Into the footless places once more trod,
And shadows hot from hell.
And now no sacred staff shall break in blossom,
No choral salutation lure to light
A spirit with perfume and sweet night
And love's tired eyes and hands and barren bosom.
There is no help for these things; none to mend.
And none to mar; not all our songs, O friend,
Will make death clear or make life durable.
Howbeit with rose and ivy and wild vine
And with wild notes about this dust of thine
At least I fill the place where white dreams dwell
And wreathe an unseen shrine.
Sleep; and if life was bitter to thee, pardon,
If sweet, give thanks ; thou hast no more to live
And to give thanks is good, and to forgive.
Out of the mystic and the mournful garden
8 AVE ATQUE VALE
Where all day through thine hands in barren brajl
Wove the sick flowers of secrecy and shade, /
Green buds of sorrow and sin, and remnants gray,
Sweet-smelling, pale with poison, sanguine-hearte4
Passions that sprang from sleep and thoughts that
Shall death not bring us all as thee one day
Among the days departed?
For thee, O now a silent soul, my brother,
Take at my hands this garland, and farewell.
Thin is the leaf, and chill the wintry smell,
And chill the solemn earth, a fatal mother,
With sadder than the Niobean womb.
And in the hollow of her breasts a tomb.
Content thee, howsoe'er, whose days are done:
There lies not any troublous thing before.
Nor sight nor sound to war against thee more,
For whom all winds are quiet as the sim,
All waters as the shore.
In presenting to the American public this collection in
English of perhaps the most influential French poet of
the last seventy years, I consider it essential to explain
the conditions under which the work has been done.
Baudelaire has written poems that will, in all likeli-
hood, live while poetry is used as a medium of expres-
sion, and the great influence that he has exercised on
English and continental literature is mainly due to the
particular quality of his style, his way of feeling or his
method of thought. He is a master of analytical power,
and in his highest ecstasy of emotional expression, this
power can readily be recognized. In his own quotation
he gave forth his philosophy on this point:
"The more art would aim at being philosophically
clear, the more will it degrade itself and return to the
childish hieroglyphic: on the other hand, the more art
detaches itself from teaching, the more will it attain to
pure disinterested beauty. . . . Poetry, under pain of
death or decay, cannot assimilate Herself to science or
ethics. She has not Truth for object, she has only Herself."
What appears at first glance in the preceding
phrases to be a contradiction is really a confirmation of
Baudelaire's conception of the highest understanding of
aesthetic principle. Baudelaire's ideal beauty is tempered
with mystery and sadness, the real too, but never the
No poet has brought so many new ideas in sensation
into a literary style. Intellectually he is all sensation,
though he seldom degenerates into abstract sentimental-
ity. This sum totality of the power of absorbing ex-
ternal sensation is Baudelaire. From the effect of his
objectivity his art expresses itself as if solely subjective.
This condition of mind and art makes him most difficult
to translate into another language, in particular, English.
This collection of his verse and prose is gathered from
those experiments in translation which I think wiU most
effectively convey to the English reader those qualities
that made Baudelaire what he is. There are numerous
translations from Baudelaire in English but most of them
may be dismissed as being seldom successful. Mr. Ar-
thur Symon's translation of some of the prose poems is a
most beautiful adventure in psychological sensations, ef-
fective though not always accurate in interpretation. Mr.
F. P. Sturm's effort with the Flowers of Evil and the Prose
Poems is always accurate, sometimes inspired, and often
a tour de force of translation. Mr. W. J. Robertson's
translations from the Flowers of Evil is the most success-
ful of all. He maintains with amazing facility all the
subtlety, beauty and one might also say the perfume of
Baudelaire's verse. Mr. Shipley does a most meritorious
work in his translations from the prose poems, and the
reader will be everlastingly grateful to him for his fine
painstaking translation of the Intimate Papers from
Baudelaire's unpublished novels.
There are few interesting or valuable essays on the
mind and art of Baudelaire in English, but the reader will
find the following critical appreciations to be of ines-
timable use in the study of the poet:
, "The Influence of Baudelaire": G. Turquet-Milnes
(Constable: 1913); "The Baudelaire Legend": James
Huneker (Egoists: Scribner's: 1909^) ; and Theophile
Gautier's essay on Baudelaire, of which an excellent Eng-
lish translation has been made by Prof. Sumichrast.
I think that this anthology will give the reader an in-
telligent understanding of the mind and art of a very
great French poet. nr. t^ r,
^ ^ T. R. Smith.
June, 19 19.
A Study by F. P. Stukm
Charles Baudelaire was one of those who take the
downward path which leads to salvation. There are men
born to be the martyrs of the world and of their own
time; men whose imagination carries them beyond all
that we know or have learned to think of as law and
order; who are so intoxicated with a vision of a beauty
beyond the world that the world's beauty seems to them
but a little paint above the face of the dead ; who love
God with a so consuming fire that they must praise evil
for God's glory, and blaspheme His name that all sects
and creeds may be melted away; who see beneath all
there is of mortal loveliness, the invisible worm, feeding
upon hopes and desires no less than upon the fair and
perishable flesh; who are good and evil at the same
time; and because the good and evil in their souls finds
a so perfect instrument in the refined and tortured body
of modern times, desire keener pleasure and more intol-
erable anguish than the world contains, and become ma-
terialists because the tortured heart cries out in denial
of the soul that tortures it. Charles Baudelaire was one
of these men; his art is the expression of his decadence;
a study of his art is the understanding of that complex
movement, that "inquietude of the Veil in the temple,"
as Mallarme called it, that has changed the literature
of the world; and, especially, made of poetry the subtle
12 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
and delicate instrument of emotional expression it has
become in our own day.
We used to hear a deal about Decadence in the arts,
and now we hear as much about Symbolism, which is a
flower sprung from the old corruption — but Baudelaire is
decadence; his art is not a mere literary affectation, a
mask of sorrow to be thrown aside when the curtain
falls, but the voice of an imagination plunged into the
contemplation of all the perverse and fallen loveliness
of the world; that finds beauty most beautiful at the
moment of its passing away, and regrets its perishing
with a so poignant grief that it must needs follow it even
into the narrow grave where those "dark comrades the
worms, without ears, without eyes," whisper their se-
crets of terror and tell of yet another pang —
"Pour ce vieux corps sans ame et mort parmi les morts."
All his life Baudelaire was a victim to an unutterable
weariness, that terrible malady of the soul bom out of
old times to prey upon civilisations that have reached
their zenith — ^weariness, not of life, but of living, of con-
tinuing to labour and suffer in a world that has exhausted
all its emotions and has no new thing to offer. Being an
artist, therefore, he took his revenge upon life by a glori-
fication of all the sorrowful things that it is life's con-
tinual desire to forget. His poems speak sweetly of de-
cay and death, and whisper their graveyard secrets into
the ears of beauty. His men are men whom the moon
has touched with her own phantasy: who love the im-
mense ungovernable sea, the unformed and multitudinous
waters; the place where they are not; the woman they
will never know; and all his women are enigmatic cour-
tesans whose beauty is a transfiguration of sin; who hide
the ugliness of the soul beneath the perfection of the
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 13
body. He loves them and does not love; they are cruel
and indolent and full of strange perversions; they are
perfumed with exotic perfumes; they sleep to the sound
of viols, or fan themselves languidly in the shadow, and
only he sees that it is the shadow of death.
An art like this, rooted in a so tortured perception of
the beauty and ugliness of a world where the spirit is
mingled indistinguishably with the flesh, almost inevi-
tably concerns itself with material things, with all the
subtle raptures the soul feels, not by abstract contem-
plation, for that would mean content, but through the
gateway of the senses; the lust of the flesh, the delight
of the eye. Sound, colour, odour, form: to him these
are not the sjonbols that lead the soul towards the in-
finite: they are the soul; they are the infinite. He writes,
always with a weary and laborious grace, about the ab-
struser and more enigmatic things of the flesh, colours
and odours particularly; but, unlike those later writers
who have been called realists, he apprehends, to borrow
a phrase from Pater, "all those finer conditions wherein
material things rise to that subtlety of operation which
constitutes them spiritual, where only the finer nerve and
the keener touch can follow."
In one of his sonnets he says:
"Je hais la passion et I'esprit me fait mal!**
and, indeed, he is a poet in whom the spirit, as modern
thought understands the word, had little or no part. We
feel, reading his terrible poems, that the body is indeed
acutely conscious of the soul, distressfully and even
angrily conscious, but its motions are not yet subdued
by the soul's prophetic voice. It was to forget this voice,
with its eternal Esto mentor, that Baudelaire wrote im-
perishably of perishable things and their fading glory.
14 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
Charles Baudelaire was born at Paris, April 21st, 182 1,
in an old turreted house in the Rue Hautefeuille. His
father, a distinguished gentleman of the eighteenth-cen-
tury school, seems to have passed his old-world man-
ners on to his son, for we learn from Baudelaire's friend
and biographer, Theophile Gautier, that the poet "always
preserved the forms of an extreme urbanity."
At school, during his childhood, he gained many dis-
tinctions, and passed for a kind of infant prodigy; but
later on, when he sat for his examination as bachelier ^s
lettres, his extreme nervousness made him appear almost
an idiot. Failing miserably, he made no second attempt.
Then his father died, and his mother married General
Aupick, afterwards ambassador to Constamtinople, an
excellent man in every respect, but quite incapable of
sympathising with or even of understanding the love for
literature that now began to manifest itself in the mind
of his stepson. All possible means were tried to turn
him from literature to some more lucrative and more re-
spectable profession. Family quarrels arose over this
all-important question, and young Baudelaire, who seems
to have given some real cause for offence to the step-
father whose aspirations and profession he despised, was
at length sent away upon a long voyage, in the hopes that
the sight of strange lands and new faces would perhaps
cause him to forget the ambitions his relatives could but
consider as foolish and idealistic. He sailed the Indian
Seas; visited the islands of Mauritius, Bourbon, Mada-
gascar, and Ceylon; saw the yellow waters of the sacred
Ganges; stored up the memory of tropical sounds and
colours and odours for use later on; and returned to
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 15
Paris shortly after his twenty-first birthday, more than
ever determined to be a man of letters.
His parents were in despair; no doubt quite rightly
so from their point of view. Theophile Gautier, perhaps
remembering the many disappointments and martyrdoms
of his own sad life, defends the attitude of General
Aupick in a passage where he poignantly describes the
hopelessness of the profession of letters. The future
author of The Flowers of Evil, however, was now his
own master and in a positipn, so far as monetary mat-
ters were concerned, to follow out his own whim. He
took apartments in the Hotel Pimodan, a kind of literary
lodging-house where all Bohemia met ; and where Gautier
and Boissard were also at that period installed. Then
began that life of uninterrupted labour and meditation
that has given to France her most characteristic litera-
ture, for these poems of Baudelaire's are not only origi-
nal in themselves but have been the cause of originality
in others; they are the root of modern French literature
and much of the best English literature; they were the
origin of that new method in poetry that gave Mallarme
and Verlaine to France; Yeats and some others to Eng-
land. It was in the Hotel Pimodan that Baudelaire and
Gautier first met and formed one of those unfading
friendships not so rare among men of letters as among
men of the world; there also the "Hashish-Eaters" held
the seances that have since become famous in the history
of literature. Hashish and opium, indeed, contribute not
a little to the odour of the strange Flowers of Evil; as
also, perhaps, they contributed to Baudelaire's death
from the terrible malady known as general paralysis, for
he was a man who could not resist a so easy path into
the world of macabre visions. I shall return to this ques-
tion again; there is internal evidence in his writings that
shows he made good literary use of these opiate-born
i6 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
dreams which ia the end dragged him into their own
It was in 1849, when Baudelaire was twenty-eight
years of age, that he made the acquaintance of the al-
ready famous Theophile Gautier, from whose admirable
essay I shall presently translate a passage giving us an
excellent pen-sketch of the famous poet and cynic — for
Baudelaire was a cynic: he had not in the least degree
the rapt expression and vague personality usually sup-
posed to be characteristic of the poetic mood. "He re-
calls," wrote M. Dulamon, who knew him well, "one of
those beautiful Abbes of the eighteenth century, so cor-
rect in their doctrine, so indulgent in their commerce
with life — the Abbe de Bernis, for example. At the
same time, he writes better verse, and would not have
demanded at Rome the destruction of the Order of
That was Baudelaire exactly, suave and polished, filled
with sceptical faith, cynical with the terrible cynicism of
the scholar who is acutely conscious of all the morbid
and gloomy secrets hidden beneath the fair exteriors of
the world. Gautier, in the passage I have already men-
tioned, emphasises both his reserve and his cynicism:
"Contrary to the somewhat loose manners of artists gen-
erally, Baudelaire prided himself upon observing the
most rigid convenances ; his courtesy, indeed, was exces-
sive to the point of seeming affected. He measured his
sentences, using only the most carefully chosen terms,
and pronounced certain words in a particular manner,
as though he wished to underline them and give them a
mysterious importance. He had italics and capital letters
in his voice. Exaggeration, much in honour at Pimo-
dan's, he disdained as being theatrical and gross; though
he himself affected paradox and excess. With a very
simple, very natural, and perfectly detached air, as
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 17
though retailing, a la Prudkomtne, a newspaper para-
graph about the mildness or rigour of the weather, he
would advance some satanically monstrous axiom, or up-
hold with the coolness of ice some theory of a mathe-
matical extravagance; for he always followed a rigorous
plan in the development of his follies. Kis spirit was
neither in words nor traits; he saw things from a particu-
lar point of view, so that their outlines were changed, as
objects when one gets a bird's-eye view of them; he per-
ceived analogies inappreciable to others, and you were
struck by their fantastic logic. His rare gestures were
slow and sober; he never threw his arms about, for he
held southern gesticulation in horror; British coolness
seemed to him to be good taste. One might describe
him as a dandy who had strayed into Bohemia; though
still preserving his rank, and that cult of self which char-
acterises a man imbued with the principles of Brummel."
At this time Baudelaire was practically unknown out-
side his own circle of friends, writers themselves; and it
was not until eight years later, in 1857, when he pub-
lished his Flowers of Evil, that he became famous.
Infamous would perhaps be a better word to describe the
kind of fame he at first obtained, for every Philistine in
France joined in the cry against a poet who dared to
remind his readers that the grave awaits even the rich;
who dared to choose the materials of his art from among
the objects of death and decay; who exposed the moul-
dering secrecies of the grave, and painted, in the phos-
phorescent colours of corruption, frescoes of death and
horror; who desecrated love in the sonnet entitled "Cau-
''You are a sky of autumn, pale and rose!
But all the sea of sadness in my blood
Surges, and ebbing, leaves my lip morose
Salt with the memory of the bitter flood.
i8 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
In vain your hand glides my faint bosom o'er;
That which you seek, beloved, is desecrate
By woman's tooth and talon : ah ! no more
Seek in me for a heart which those dogs ate!
It is a ruin where the jackals rest,
And rend and tear and glut themselves and slayl
— A perfume swims about your naked breast.
Beauty, hard scourge of spirits, have your way!
With flame-like eyes that at bright feasts have flared
Burn up these tatters that the beasts have spared!"
We can recall nothing like it in the literary history of
our own country; the sensation caused by the appearance
of the first series of Mr. Swinburne's Poems and Ballads
was mild in comparison; just as Mr, Swinburne's poems
were but wan derivatives from Baudelaire — at least as
far as ideas are concerned; I say nothing about their
beauty of expression or almost absolute mastery of tech-
nique — for it is quite obvious that the English poet was
indebted to Baudelaire for all the bizarre and satanic
elements in his work; as Baudelaire was indebted to Poe.
Mr. Swinburne, however, is wild where Baudelaire is
grave; and where Baudelaire compresses some perverse
and morbid image into a single unforgettable line, Mr.
Swinburne beats it into a froth of many musical lovely
words, until we forget the deep sea in the shining foam.
If we call to mind the reception at first given to the
black-and-white work of Aubrey Beardsley, it will give
some idea of the consternation caused in France by the
appearance of the Flowers of Evil. Beardsley, indeed,
resembles Baudelaire in many ways, for he achieved in
art what the other achieved in literature: the apotheosis
of the horrible and grotesque, the perfecting of symbols
to shadow forth intellectual sin, the tearing away of the
decent veil of forgetfulness that hides our own corrup-
tion from our eyes, and his one prose romance, Under the
Hill, unhappily incomplete at his death at the age of
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 19
twenty-four, beats Baudelaire on his own ground. The
four or five chapters which alone remain of this incom-
plete romance stand alone in literature. They are the ab-
solute attainment of what Baudelaire more or less suc-
cessfully attempted — a testament of sin. Not the sin of
the flesh, the gross faults of the body that are vulgarly
known as sin ; but sin which is a metaphysical corruption,
a depravity of pure intellect, the sin of the fallen angels
in hell who cover their anguish with the sound of harps
and sweet odours; who are incapable of bodily impurity,
and for whom spiritual purity is the only terror. And
since mortality, which is the shadow of the immortal,
can comprehend spiritual and abstract things only by the
analogies and correspondences which exist between them
and the far reflections of them that we call reality, both
Baudelaire and Beardsley, as indeed all artists who speak
with tongues of spiritual truth, choose more or less actual
human beings to be the shadows of the divine or satanic
beings they would invoke, and make them sin delicate
sins of the refined bodily sense that we may get a far-off
glimpse of the Evil that is not mortal but immortal, the
Spiritual Evil that has set up its black throne beside the
throne of Spiritual Good, and has equal share in the
shaping of the world and man.
I am not sure that Baudelaire, when he wrote this
sinister poetry, had any clear idea that it was his voca-
tion to be a prophet either of good or evil. Certainly
he had no thought of founding a school of poetry, and if
he made any conscious effort to bring a new method into
literature, it was merely because he desired to be one
of the famous writers of his country. An inspired thinker,
however, whether his inspiration be mighty or small, re-
ceives his thought from a profounder source than his
own physical reason, and writes to the dictation of beings
outside of and greater than Jiimself. The famous Eliphas
20 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
Levi, like all the mystics who came before and after
him, from Basilides the Gnostic to Blake the English
visionary, taught that the poet and dreamer are the
mediums of the Divine Word, and sole instruments
through which the gods energise in the world of material
things. The writing of a great book is the casting of ?i
pebble into the pool of human thought; it gives rise to
ever-widening circles that will reach we know not whither,
and begins a chain of circumstances that may end in the
destruction of kingdoms and religions and the awaken-
ing of new gods. The change wrought, directly or in-
directly, by The Flowers of Evil alone is almost too
great to be properly understood. There is perhaps not a
man in Europe to-day whose outlook on life would not
have been different had The Flowers of Evil never been
written. The first thing that happens after the publica-
tion of such a book is the theft of its ideas and the imi-
tation of its style by the lesser writers who labour for
the multitude, and so its teaching goes from book to
book, from the greater to the lesser, as the divine hier-
archies emanate from Divinity, until ideas that were
once paradoxical, or even blasphemous and unholy, have
become mere newspaper commonplaces adopted by the
numberless thousands who do not think for themselves,
and the world's thought is changed completely, though
by infinite slow degrees. The immediate result of Baude-
laire's work was the Decadent School in French litera-
ture. Then the influence spread across the Channel, and
the English ^Esthetes arose to preach the gospel of
imagination to the unimaginative. Both Decadence and
^stheticism, as intellectual movements, have fallen into
the nadir of oblivion, and the dust lies heavy upon them,
but they left a little leaven to lighten the heavy inertness
of correct and academic literature; and now Symbolism,
a greater movement than either, is in the ascendant, giv-
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 21
ing another turn to the wheel, and to all who think
deeply about such matters it seems as though Symbolist
literature is to be the literature of the future. The De-
cadents and ^Esthetes were weak because they had no
banner to fight beneath, no authority to appeal to in de-
fence of their views, no definite gospel to preach. They
were by turns morbid, hysterical, foolishly blasphemous,
or weakly disgusting, but never anything for long, their
one desire being to produce a thrill at any cost.. If the
hospital failed they went to fhe brothel, and when even
obscenity failed to stimulate the jaded palates of their
generation there was still the graveyard left. A more
or less successful imitation of Baudelaire's awful verses
entitled "The Corpse" has been the beginning of more
than one French poet's corrupt flight across the sky of
literature. That Baudelaire himself was one of their
company is not an accusation, for he had genius, which
his imitators, English or French, have not; and his book,
even apart from the fact that it made straight the way for
better things, must be admitted to be a great and subtly-
wrought work of art by whosoever reads it with under-
standing. And, moreover, his morbidness is not at all
an affectation; his poems inevitably prove the writer to
have been quite sincere in his perversion and in his
The Symbolist writers of to-day, though they are
sprung from him, are greater than he because they are
the prophets of a faith who believe in what they preach.
They find their defence in the writings of the mystics,
and their doctrines are at the root of every religion.
They were held by the Gnostics and are in the books ol
the Kabbalists and the Magi. Blake preached them
and Eliphas Levi taught them to his disciples in France,
who in turn have misunderstood and perverted them, and
formed strange religions and sects of Devil-worshippers.
22 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
These doctrines hold that the visible world is the world
of illusion, not of reality. Colour and sound and per-
fume and all material and sensible things are but the
symbols and far-off reflections of the things that are
alone real. ' Reality is hidden away from us by the five
senses and the gates of death; and Reason, the blind and
laborious servant of the physical brain, deludes us into
believing that we can know anything of truth through
the medium of the senses. It is through the imagination
alone that man can obtain spiritual revelation, for imagi-
nation is the one window in the prison-house of the flesh
through which the soul can see the proud images of
eternity. And Blake, who is the authority of all Eng-
lish Symbolist writers, long since formulated their creed
in words that have been quoted again and again, and
must still be quoted by all who write in defence of mod-
ern art: — "The world of imagination is the world of
Eternity. It is the divine bosom into which we shall
all go after the death of the vegetated body. This world
of imagination is infinite and eternal, whereas the world
of generation, or vegetation, is finite and temporal. There
exist in that eternal world the permanent realities of
everything which we see reflected in this vegetable glass
In spite of the cry against Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire
did not lack defenders among literary men themselves;
and many enthusiastic articles were written in praise of
his book. Thierry not unjustly compared him to Dante,
to which Barbey d'Aurevilly replied, ''Baudelaire comes
from hell, Dante only went there"; adding at the finish
of his article: "After the Flowers of Evil there are only
two possible ways for the poet who made them blossom:
either to blow out his brains or become a Christian."
Baudelaire did neither. And Victor Hugo, after reading
the two poems, "The Seven Old Men" and "The Little
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 23
Old Women," wrote to Baudelaire. "You have dowered
the heaven of art with one knows not what deathly
gleam," he said in his letter; "you have created a new
shudder." The phrase became famous, and for many
years after this the creation of a new shudder was the
ambition of every young French writer worth his salt.
When the first great wave of public astonishment had
broken and ebbed, Baudelaire's work began to be appre-
ciated by others than merely literary men, by all in fact
who cared for careful art and subtle thinking, and before
long he was admitted to be the greatest after Hugo who
had written French verse. He was famous and he was un-
happy. Neither glory, nor love, nor friendship — and he
knew them all — could minister to the disease of that fierce
mind, seeking it knew not what and never finding it;
seeking it, unhappily, in the strangest excesses. He took
opium to quieten his nerves when they trembled, for
something to do when they did not, and made immoder-
ate use of hashish to produce visions and heighten his
phantasy. His life was a haunted weariness. Thomas
de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
seems to have fascinated him to a great extent, for be-
sides imitating the vices of the author, he wrote, in imita-
tion of his book, The Artificial Paradises, a monograph
on the effects of opium and hashish, partly original, partly
a mere translation from the Confessions.
He remembered his visions and sensations as an eater
of drugs and made literary use of them. At the end
of this book, among the "Poems in Prose," will be found
one entitled "The Double Chamber," almost certainly
written under the influence of opium, and the last verse
ol "The Temptation"—
"O mystic metamorphosis!
My senses into one sense flow —
Her voice makes perfume when she speaks,
Her breath is music faint and low!"
24 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
as well as the last six lines of that profound sonnet "Cor-
"Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,
Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;.
Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,
Have all the expansion of things infinite :
As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,
Which sing the sense's and the soul's delight,"
are certainly memories of a sensation he experienced un-
der the influence of hashish, as recorded in The Artificial
Paradises, where he has this curious passage: — "The
senses become extraordinarily acute and fine. The eyes
pierce Infinity. The ear seizes the most unseizable sounds
in the midst of the shrillest noises. Hallucinations com-
mence External objects talie on monstrous appearances
and show themselves under forms hitherto unknown.
. . . The most singular equivocations, the most inex-
plicable transposition of ideas, take place. Sounds are
perceived to have a colour, and colour becomes musical.'*
Baudelaire need not have gone to hashish to discover
this. The mystics of all times have taught that sounds
in gross matter produce colour in subtle matter; and all
who are subject to any visionary condition know that
when in trance colours will produce words of a language
whose meaning is forgotten as soon as one awakes to nor-
mal life; but I do not think Baudelaire was a visionary.
His work shows too precise a method, and a too ordered
appreciation of the artificial in beauty. There again
he is comparable to Aubrey Beardsley, for I have read
somewhere that when Beardsley was asked if ever he
saw visions, he replied, "I do not permit myself to see
them, except upon paper." The whole question of the
colour of sound is one of supreme interest to the poet,
but it is too difficult and abstract a question to be writ-
ten of here. A famous sonnet by Rimbaud on the colour
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 25
of the vowels has founded a school of symbolists in
France. I will content myself with quoting that — in the
original, since it loses too much, by translation:
"A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu, voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes,
A, noir corset velu des mouches eclatantes
Qui bourdonnent autour des puanteurs cruelles,.
Golfes d'ombres; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes.
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombrelles;
I, poupre, sang crache, rire des levres belles
Dans la colere qu les ivresses penitentes;
U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des patis semes d'animaux, paix des rides
Que ralchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux.
O, supreme clairon, plein de strideurs etranges,
Silences traverses des mondea et des anges.
— O rOmega, rayon violet de ses yeux."
It is to be hoped that opium and hashish rendered
Baudelaire somewhat less unhappy during his life, for
they certainly contributed to hasten his death. Always
of an extremely neurotic temperament, he began to break
down beneath his excesses, and shortly after the publica-
tion of The Artificial Paradises, which shows a consider-
able deterioration in his style, he removed from Paris to
Brussels in the hope of building up his health by the
change. At Brussels he grew worse. His speech began
to fail; he was unable to pronounce certain words and
stumbled over others. Hallucinations commenced, no
longer the hallucinations of hashish; and his disease,
rapidly estabtishing itself, was recognised as "general
paralysis of the insane." Gautier tells how the news
of his death came to Paris while he yet lived. It was
false news, but prematurely true. Baudelaire lingered
on for another three months; motionless and inert, his
eyes the only part of him alive; unable to speak or even
to write, and so died.
He left, besides The Flowers of Evil and Little Poems
26 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
in Prose (his masterpieces), several volumes of critical
essays, published under the titles of ^Esthetic Curiosities
and Romantic Art; The Artificial Paradises, and his
translations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe — admirable
pieces of work by which Poe actually gains.
Baudelaire's love of the artificial has been insisted
upon by all who have studied his work, but to my mind
never sufficiently insisted upon, for it was the founda-
tion of his method. He wrote many arguments in favour
of the artificial, and elaborated them into a kind of para-
doxical philosophy of art. His hatred of nature and
purely natural things was but a perverted form of the
religious ecstasy that made the old monk pull his cowl
about his eyes when he left his cell in the month of May,
lest he should see the blossoming trees, and his mind be
turned towards the beautiful delusions of the world. The
Egyptians and the earliest of the Christians looked
upon nature not as the work of the good and benevolent
spirit who is the father of our souls, but as the work of
the rebellious "gods of generation," who fashion beauti-
ful things to capture the heart of man and bind his
Soul to earth. Blake, whom I have already quoted, hated
nature in the same fashion, and held death to be the one
way of escape from "the delusions of goddess Nature and
her laws." Baudelaire's revolt against external things
was more a revolt of the intellect than of the imagina-
tion; and he expresses it, not by desiring that the things
of nature should be swept away to make room for the
things of the spirit, but that they should be so changed
by art that they cease to be natural. As he was of all
poets the most intensely modem, holding that "modern-
ity is one-half of art," the other half being something
"eternal and immutable," he preferred, unlike Blake and
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 27
his modern followers, to express himself in quite modem
terms, and so wrote his famous and much misunderstood
Eloge du Maquillage to defend his views. As was usual
with him, he pushed his ideas to their extreme logical
sequence, and the casual reader who picks up that ex-
traordinary essay is in consequence quite misled as to the
It seems scarcely necessary at this time of day to as-
sert that the Eloge du Maquillage is something more than
a mere Praise of Cosmetics, written by a man who wished
to shock his readers. It is the part expression of a theory
of art, and if it is paradoxical and far-fetched it is be-
cause Baudelaire wrote at a time when French literature,
in the words of M. Asselineau, "was dying of correct-
ness," and needed y^ry vigorous treatment indeed. If
the Eloge du Maquillage had been more restrained in
manner, if it had not been something so entirely con-
trary to all accepted ideas of the well-regulated citizen
who never thinks a thought that somebody else has not
put into his head, it might have been passed over without
notice. It was written to initiate the profane; to make
them think, at least ; and not to raise a smile among the
initiated. And moreover, it was in a manner a defence
of his own work that had met with so much hatred and
He begins by attempting to prove that Nature is in-
nately and fundamentally wrong and wicked. "The
greater number of errors relative to the beautiful date
from the eighteenth century's false cenceptions of mo-
rality. Nature was regarded in those times as the base,
source, and type of all possible good and beauty. . . .
If, however, we consent to refer simply to the visible
facts, ... we see that Nature teaches nothing, or
almost nothing. That is to say, she forces man to sleep,
to drink, to eat, and to protect himself, well or ill, against
•28 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
the hostilities of the atmosphere. It is she also who
moves him to kill and eat or imprison and torture his
kind; for, as soon as we leave the region of necessities
and needs to enter into that of luxuries and pleasures,
we see that Nature is no better than a counsellor to
crime. . . . Religion commands us to nourish our poor
and infirm parents; Nature (the voice of our own inter-
est) commands us to do away with them. Pass in re-
view, analyse all that is natural, all the actions and de-
sires of the natural man, and you will find nothing but
what is horrible. All beautiful and noble things are
the result of calculation. Crime, the taste for which
the human animal absorbs before birth, is originally natu-
ral. Virtue, on the contrary, is artificial, supernatural,
since there has been a necessity in all ages and among
all nations for gods and prophets to preach virtue to hu-
manity; since man alone would have been unable to dis-
cover it. Evil is done without effort, naturally and by
fatality ; good is always the product of an art."
So far the argument is straightforward and expresses
what many must have thought, but Baudelaire, remem-
bering that exaggeration is the best way of impressing
one's ideas upon the unimaginative, immediately carries
his argument from the moral order to the order of the
beautiful, and applies it there. The result is strange
enough. "I am thus led to regard personal adornment
as one of the signs of the primitive nobility of the hu-
man soul. The races that our confused and perverted
civilisation, with a fatuity and pride entirely laughable,
treats as savages, understand as does the child the high
spirituality of the toilet. The savage and the child, by
their naive love of all brilliant things, of glittering plum-
age and shining stuffs, and the superlative majesty of
artificial forms, bear witness to their distaste for reality,
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 29
and so prove, unknown to then^lves, the immateriality
of their souls."
Thus, with some appearance of logic, he carries his
argument a step farther, and this immediately brings
him to the bizarre 'conclusion that the more beautiful a
woman naturally is, the more she should hide her natu-
ral beauty beneath the artificial charm of rouge and
powder. "She performs a duty in attempting to appear
magical and supernatural. She is an idol who must adorn
herself to be adored." Powder and rouge and kohl, all
the httle artifices that shock respectability, have for
their end "the creation of an abstract unity in the grain
and colour of the skin." This unity brings the human
being nearer to the condition of a statue — that is to say,
"a divine and superior being." Red and black are the
symbols of "an excessive and supernatural life." A touch
of kohl "lends to the eye a more decided appearance of
a window opened upon infinity"; and rouge augments the
brilliance of the eye, "and adds to a beautiful feminine
face the mysterious passion of the priestess." But arti-
fice cannot make ugliness any the less ugly, nor help
age to rival youth. "Who dare assign to art the sterile
function of imitating nature?" Deception, if it is to
have any charm, must be obvious and unashamed; it
must be displayed "if not with affectation, at least with
a kind of candour."
Such theories as these, if they are sincerely held, neces-
sarily lead the theorist into the strangest b5T)aths of
literature. Baudelaire, like many another writer whose
business is with verse, pondered so long upon the musical
and rhythmical value of words that at times words be-
came meaningless to him. He thought his own language
too simple to express the complexities of poetic reverie,
and dreamed of writing his poems in Latin. Not, how-
ever, in the Latin of classical times ; that was too robust,
30 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
too natural, too "brutal and purely epidermic," to use
an expression of his own; but in the corrupt Latin of the
Byzantine decadence, which he considered as "the su-
preme sigh of a strong being already transformed and
prepared for the spiritual life."
One of these Latin poems has appeared in all editions
of The Flowers of Evil. Though dozens as good are to
be found in the Breviary of the Roman Church, "Fran-
ciscae Meae Laudes" has been included in this selection
for the benefit of those curious in such matters. It is
one of Baudelaire's many successful steps in the wrong
In almost every line of The Flowers of Evil one can
trace the influence of Edgar Poe, and in the many places
where Baudelaire has attained a pure imaginative beauty
as in "The Sadness of the Moon" or "Music" or "The
Death of Lovers," it is a beauty that would have pleased
the author of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.
Another kind of beauty, the beauty of death — for in
Baudelaire's crucible everything is melted into loveliness
— is even more directly traceable to Poe. In spite of the
sonnet "Correspondences," and in spite of his Symbolist
followers of the present day, Baudelaire himself made
but an imperfect use of such symbols as he had; and
these he found ready to his hand in the works of the
American poet. The Tomb, the symbol of death or of an
intellectual darkness inhabited by the Worm, who is re-
morse; the Abyss, which is the despair into which the
mortal part of man's mind plunges when brought into
contact with dead and perishing substances; all these are
borrowed from Poe. The Worm, who "devours with a
kiss," occasionally becomes Time devouring life, or the
Demon, "the obscure Enemy who gnaws the heart" ; and
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 31
when it is none of these it is the Serpent, as in that
sombre poem "To a Madonna" — the Serpent beneath the
feet of conquering purity. Baudelaire's imagination,
however, which continually ran upon macabre images,
loved remorse more than peace, and loved the Serpent
more than the purity that would slay it, so he destroys
purity with "Seven Knives" which are "the Seven Deadly
Sins," that the Serpent may live to prey upon a heart
that finds no beauty in peace. Even Love is evil, for his
*'ancient arrows" are "crime, horror, folly," and the god
Eros becomes a demon lying in wait:
"Let us love gently. Love, from his retreat
Ambushed and shadowy, bends his fatal bow,
And I too well his ancient arrows know:
Crime, Horror, Folly. . . ."
Gautier pretends that the poet preserved his ideal under
the form of "the adorable phantom of La Beatrix, the
ideal ever desired, never attained, the divine and superior
beauty incarnated in an ethereal woman, spiritualised,
made of light and flame and perfume, a vapour, a dream,
a reflection of the seraphical world"; but when Baude-
laire has a vision of this same Beatrice he sees her as one
of a crowd of "cruel and curious demons" who mock
at his sorrow, and she, too, mocks him, and caresses the
demons who are his spiritual foes.
Baudelaire was too deeply in love with the artificial
to care overmuch for the symbols he could have found
among natural objects. Only once in The Flowers of
Evil does he look upon the Moon with the eyes of a
mystic; and that is when he remembers that all people
of imagination are under the Moon's influence, and makes
his poet hide her iridescent tear in his heart, "far from
the eyes of the Sun," for the Sun is lord of material la-
bours and therefore hostile to the dreams and reveries
32 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
that are the activity of the poet. He sought more for
bizarre analogies and striking metaphors than for true
symbols or correspondences. He is happiest when com-
paring the vault of the heaven to "the lighted ceiling of
a music hall," or "the black lid of the mighty pot where
the human generations boil"; and when he thinks of the
imfortunate and unhappy folk of the world, he does not
see any hope for them in any future state; he sees,
simply, "God's awful claw" stretched out to tear them.
He offers pity, but no comfort.
Sometimes he has a vision of a beauty unmingled with
any malevolence; but it is always evoked by sensuous
and material things; perfume or music; and always it is
a sorrowful loveliness he mourns or praises. Perhaps of
all his poems "The Balcony" is most full of that tender
and reverential melancholy we look for in a poem of
love; but even it tells of a passion that has faded out
of heart and mind and become beautiful only with its
passing away, and not of an existing love. The other
love poems — if indeed such a name can be given to "A
Madrigal of Sorrow," "The Eyes of Beauty," "The Re-
morse of the Dead," and the like — are nothing but ter-
rible confessions of satiety, or cruelty, or terror. I have
translated "The Corpse," his most famous and most
infamous poem, partly because it shows him at his worst
as the others in the volume at his best, partly because
it is something of the nature of a literary curiosity. A
poem like "The Corpse," which is simply an example of
what may happen if any writer pushes his theories to the
extreme, does not at all detract, be it said, from Baude-
laire's delicate genius; for though he may not be quite
worthy of a place by Dante, he has written poems that
Dante might have been proud to write, and he is worthy
to be set among the very greatest of the modems, along-
side Hugo and Verlaine. Read the sonnet entitled
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 33
"Beauty" and you will see how he has invoked in four-
teen lines the image of a goddess, mysterious and immor-
tal; as fair as that Aphrodite who cast the shadow of
her loveliness upon the Golden Age; as terrible as Pallas,
"the warrior maid invincible." And as Minerva loved
mortality in the person of Ulysses, so Baudelaire's per-
sonification of Beauty loves the poets who pray before
her and gaze into her eternal eyes, watching the rising
and setting of their visionary Star in those placid mir-
The explanation of most of Baudelaire's morbid
imaginings is this, that he was a man haunted by terrible
dream-like memories; chief among them the memory that
the loveliness he had adored in woman — the curve of a
perfect cheek, the lifting of a perfect arm in some gesture
of imperial indolence, the fall of a curl across a pale
brow, all the minute and unforgettable things that give
immortality to some movement of existence — all these,
and the woman and her lover, must pass away from Time
and Space; and he, unhappily, knew nothing of the phi-
losophy that teaches us how all objects and events, even
the most trivial — a woman's gesture, a rose, a sigh, a fad-
ing flame, the sound that trembles on a lute-string — find
a place in Eternity when they pass from the recognition
of our senses. If he believed in the deathlessness of
man's personality he gained no comfort from his belief.
He mourned the body's decay; he was not concerned
with the soul ; and no heaven less palpable than Moham-
med's could have had any reality in his imagination.
His prose is as distinguished in its manner as his
verse. I think it was Professor Saintsbury who first
brought The Little Poems in Prose, a selection from
which is included in this volume, before the notice of
English readers in an essay written many years ago. I
am writing this in France, far from the possibility of
34 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
consulting any English books, but if my memory serves
me rightly he considered the prose of these prose poems
to be as perfect as literature can be. I think he said,
"they go as far as prose can go." They need no other
introduction than thepiselves, for they are perfect of their
kind, and not different in thought from the more elab-
orately wrought poems of The Flowers of Evil. Some of
them, as for instance "Every Man His Chimaera," are
as classical and as universally true as the myths and sym-
bolisms of the Old Testament; and all of them, I think,
are worthy of a place in that book the Archangel of the
Presence will consult when all is weighed in the balance
— the book written by man himself, the record of his deep
and shallow imaginings. Baudelaire wrote them, he
said, because he had dreamed, "in his days of ambition,"
"of a miracle of poetical prose, musical without rhythm
and without rhyme." His attitude of mind was always
so natural to him that he never thought it necessary to
make any excuse for the spirit of his art or the drear
philosophy he preached ; unless a short notice printed in
the first edition of his poems, but withdrawn from the
second edition, explaining that "faithful to his dolorous
programme, the author of The Flowers of Evil, as a per-
fect comedian, has had to mould his spirit to all sophisms
as to all corruptions," can be considered as an excuse.
From whatever point of view we regard him : whether we
praise his art and blame his philosophy, or blame his art
and praise his philosophy, he is as difficult to analyse
as he is difficult to give a place to, for we have none with
whom to compare him, or very few, too few to be of ser-
vice to the critic. His art is like the pearl, a beautiful
product of disease, and to blame it is like blaming the
He looked upon life very much as Poe, whom he so
admired, looked upon it: with the eye of a sensitive
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 35
spectator in some gloomy vault of the Spanish Inquisi-
tion, where beauty was upon the rack; he was horrified,
but unable to turn from a sight that fascinated him
by its very terror. His moments of inspiration are haunt-
ed by the consciousness that evil beings, clothed with hor-
ror as with a shroud, are ever lingering about the temple
of life and awaiting an opportunity to enter. He was
like a man who awakens trembling from a nightmare,
afraid of the darkness, and unable to believe the dawn
may be less hopeless than the midnight. Perhaps he
was haunted, as many artists and all mystics, by a fear of
madness and of the unseen world of evil shapes that
sanity hides from us and madness reveals. Is there a
man, is there a writer, especially, who has not at times
been conscious of a vague and terrible fear that the
whole world of visible nature is but a comfortable illu-
sion that may fade away in a moment and leave him
face to face with the horror that has visited him in
dreams? The old occult writers held that the evil
thoughts of others beget phantoms in the air that can
make themselves bodies out of our fear, and haunt even
our waking moments. These were the shapes of terror
that haunted Baudelaire. Shelley, too, writes of them
with as profound a knowledge as the magical writer of
the Middle Ages. They come to haunt his Prometheus.
"Blackening the birth of day with countless wings,
And hollow underneath, like death."
They are the elemental beings who dwell beside the
soul of the dreamer and the poet, "like a vain loud mul-
titude"; turning life into death and all beautiful thoughts
into poems like The Flowers of Evil, or into tales like
the Satanic reveries of Edgar Poe.
"We are the ministers of pain, and fear.
And disappointment, and mistrust, and hate.
And clinging crime; and as lean dogs pursue
36 CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
Through wood and lake some struck and sobbing fawn,
We track all things that weep, and bleed, and live,
When the great King betrays them to our will."
And every man gives them of the substance of his imagi-
nation to clothe them in prophetic shapes that are the
images of his destiny:
"From our victim's destined agony
The shade which is our form invests us round,
Else we are shapeless as our mother Night."
The greatest of all poets conquer their dreams; others,
who are great, but not of the greatest, are conquered by
them, and Baudelaire was one of these. There is a pas-
sage in the works of Edgar Poe that Baudelaire may well
have pondered as he laboured at his translation, for it
reveals the secret of his life: "There are moments when,
even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad hu-
manity may assume the semblance of a hell; but the
imagination of man is no Carathis to explore with im-
punity its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepul-
chral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful;
but, like the demons in whose company Afrasiab made
his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep or they will
devour us — they must be suffered to slumber or we
POEMS IN PROSE
Translated by Arthur Symons
The "Petits Poemes en Prose" are experiments, and
they are also confessions. "Who of us," says Baudelaire
in his dedicatory preface, "has not dreamed, in moments
of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical
without rhythm and without rhyme, subtle and staccato
enough to follow the lyric motions of the soul, the waver-
ing outlines of meditation, the sudden starts of the con-
science?" This miracle he has achieved in these baga-
telles laborieuses, to use his own words, these astonishing
trifles, in which the art is not more novel, precise and
perfect than the qualitj- of thought and of emotion.
In translating into English a few of these little master-
pieces, which have given me so much delight for so many
years, I have tried to be absolutely faithful to the sense,
the words, and the rhythm of the original. A. S.
THE FAVOURS OF THE MOON
The Moon, who is caprice itself, looked in through
the window when you lay asleep in your cradle, and said
inwardly: "This is a child after my own soul."
And she came softly down the staircase of the clouds,
and passed noiselessly through the window-pane. Then
she laid herself upon you with the supple tenderness of a
mother, and she left her colours upon your face. That is
why your eyes are green and your cheeks extraordinarily
pale. It was when you looked at her, that your pupils
widened so strangely; and she clasped her arms so ten-
derly about your throat that ever since you have had
the longing for tears.
Nevertheless, in the flood of her joy, the Moon filled
the room like a phosphoric atmosphere, like a luminous
poison; and all this living light thought and said: "My
kiss shall be upon you for ever. You shall be beautiful
as I am beautiful. You shall love that which I love and
that by which I am loved: water and clouds, night and
silence; the vast green sea; the formless and multiform
water; the place where you shall never be; the lover
whom you shall never know; unnatural flowers; odours
which make men drunk; the cats that languish upon
pianos and sob like women, with hoarse sweet voices!
"And you shall be loved by my lovers, courted by my
courtiers. You shall be the queen of men who have green
eyes, and whose throats I have clasped by night in my
caresses; of those that love the sea, the vast tumultuous
green sea, formless and multiform water, the place where
they are not, the woman whom they know not, the omi-
40 POEMS IN PROSE
nous flowers that are like the censers of an unknown rite,
the odours that trouble the will, and the savage and
voluptuous beasts that are the emblems of their folly."
And that is why, accursed dear spoilt child, I lie now
at your feet, seeking to find in you the image of the fear-
ful goddess, the fateful god-mother, the poisonous nurse
of all the moonstruck of the world.
WHICH IS TRUE?
I KNEW one Benedicta who filled earth and air with the
ideal; and from whose eyes men learnt the desire of
greatness, of beauty, of glory, and of all whereby we
believe in immortality.
But this miraculous child was too beautiful to live
long; and she died only a few days after I had come,
to know her, and I buried her with my own hands, one
day when Spring shook out her censer in the graveyards.
I buried her with my own hands, shut down into a coffin
of wood, perfumed and incorruptible like Indian caskets.
And as I still gazed at the place where I had laid
away my treasure, I saw all at once a little person singu-
larly like the deceased, who trampled on the fresh soil
with a strange and hysterical violence, and said, shriek-
ing with laughter: "Look at me! I am the real Bene-
dicta! a pretty sort of baggage I am! And to punish you
for your blindness and folly you shall love me just as
But I was furious, and I answered: "No! no! no!"
And to add more emphasis to my refusal I stamped on
the ground so violently with my foot that my leg sank
up to the knee in the earth of the new grave; and now,
like a wolf caught in a trap, I remain fastened, perhaps
for ever, to the grave of the ideal.
POEMS IN PROSE 41
'X'INVITATION AU VOYAGE"
There is a wonderful country, a country of Cockaigne,
they say, which I dreamed of visiting with an old friend.
It is a strange country, lost in the mists of our North,
and one might call it the East of the West, the China of
Europe, so freely does a warm and capricious fancy
flourish there, and so patiently and persistently has that
fancy illustrated it with a learned and delicate vegeta-
A real country of Cockaigne, where everything is beau-
tiful, rich, quiet, honest; where order is the likeness and
the mirror of luxury; where life is fat, and sweet to
breathe; where disorder, tumult, and the unexpected are
shut out; where happiness is wedded to silence; where
even cooking is poetic, rich and highly flavoured at once;
where all, dear love, is made in your image.
You know that feverish sickness which comes over
us in our cold miseries, that nostalgia of unknown lands,
that anguish of curiosity? There is a country made in
your image, where all is beautiful, rich, quiet and honest;
where fancy has built and decorated a western China,
where life is sweet to breathe, where happiness is wed-
ded to silence. It is there that we should live, it is there
that we should die!
Yes, it is there that we should breathe, dream, and
lengthen out the hours by the infinity of sensations. A
musician has written an "Invitation a la Valse": who
will compose the "Invitation au Voyage" that we can of-
fer to the beloved, to the chosen sister?
Yes, it is in this atmosphere that it would be good to
live; far off, where slower hours contain more thought^
42 POEMS IN PROSE
where clocks strike happiness with a deeper and more
On shining panels, or on gilded leather of a dark rich-
ness, slumbers the discreet life of pictures, deep, calm,,
and devout, as the souls of the painters who created it.
The sunsets which colour so richly the walls of dining-
room and drawing-room, are sifted through beautiful
hangings or through tall wro^^ght windows leaded into
many panes. The pieces of furniture are large, curious,
and fantastic, armed with, locks and secrets like refined
souls. Mirrors, metals, hangings, goldsmith's work and
pottery, play for the eyes a mute and mysterious S5an-
phony; and from all things, from every corner, from the
cracks of drawers and from the folds of hangings, ex-
hales a singular odour, a "forget-me-not" of Sumatra,
which is, as it were, the soul of the abode.
A real country of Cockaigne, I assure you, where all
is beautiful, clean, and shining, like a clear conscience,
like a bright array of kitchen crockery, like splendid
jewellery of gold, like many-coloured jewellery of silver!
All the treasures of the world have found their way there,
as to the house of a hard-working man who has put the
whole world in his debt. Singular country, excelling
others as Art excels Nature, where Nature is refashioned
by dreams, where Nature is. corrected, embellished, re-
Let the alchemists of horticulture seek and seek again,
let them set ever further and further back the limits to
their happiness! Let them offer prizes of sixty and of a
hundred thousand florins to whoever will solve their am-
bitious problems! For me, I have found my "black
tulip" and my "blue dahlia!"
Incomparable flower, recaptured tulip, allegoric dahlia,
it is there, is it not, in that beautiful country, so calm
and so full of dreams, that you live and flourish? There;
POEMS IN PROSE 43
would you not be framed within your own analogy, and
would you not see yourself again, reflected, as the mystics
say, in your own "correspondence"?
Dreams, dreams ever! and the more delicate and am-
bitious the soul, the further do dreams estrange it from
possible things. Every man carries within himself his
natural dose of opium, ceaselessly secreted and renewed,
and, from birth to death, how many hours can we reckon
of positive pleasure, of successful and decided action?
Shall we ever live in, shall we ever pass into, that pic-
ture which my mind has painted, that picture made in
These treasures, this furniture, this luxury, this order,
these odours, these miraculous flowers, are you. You
too are the great rivers and the quiet canals. The vast
ships that drift down them, laden with riches, from
whose decks comes the sound of the monotonous songs
of labouring sailors, are my thoughts which slumber or
rise and fall on your breast. You lead them softly
towards the sea, which is the infinite, mirroring the
depths of the sky in the crystal clearness of your soul;
and when, weary of the surge and heavy with the spoils
of the East, they return to the port of their birth, it is still
my thoughts that come back enriched out of the infin-
ite to you.
THE EYES OF THE POOR
Ah! you want to know why I hate you to-day. It
will probably be less easy for you to understand than
for me to explain it to you; for you are, I think, the
most perfect example of feminine impenetrability that
could possibly be found.
44 POEMS IN PROSE
We had spent a long day together, and it had seemed
to me short. We had promised one another that we
would think the same thoughts and that our two souls
should become one soul; a dream which is not original,
after all, except that, dreamed by all men, it has been
realised by none.
In the evening you were a little tired, and you sat
down outside a new cafe at the comer of a new boule-
vard, still littered with plaster and already displaying
proudly its unfinished splendours. The cafe glittered.
The very gas put on all the fervency of a fresh start, and
lighted up with its full force the blinding whiteness of
the walls, the dazzling sheets of glass in the mirrors, the
gilt of cornices and mouldings, the chubby-cheeked pages
straining back from hounds in leash, the ladies laugh-
ing at the falcons on their wrists, the nymphs and god-
desses carrying fruits and pies and game on their heads,
the Hebes and Ganymedes holding out at arm's-length
little jars of syrups or parti-coloured obelisks of ices;
the whole of history and of mythology brought together
to make a paradise for gluttons. Exactly opposite to us,
in the roadway, stood a man of about forty years of age,
with a weary face and a greyish beard, holding a little
boy by one hand and carrying on the other arm a little
fellow too weak to walk. He was taking the nurse-maid's
place, and had brought his children out for a walk in the
evening. All were in rags. The three faces were ex-
traordinarily serious, and the six eyes stared fixedly at
the new cafe with an equal admiration, differentiated in
each according to age.
The father's eyes said: "How beautiful it is! how
beautiful it is! One would think that all the gold of the
poor world had found its way to these walls." The boy's
eyes said: "How beautiful it is! how beautiful it is!
But that is a house which only people who are not like
POEMS IN PROSE 45
us can enter." As for the little one's eyes, they were too
fascinated to express anything but stupid and utter joy.
Song-writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and
softens the heart. The song was right that evening, so
far as I was concerned. Not only was I touched by this
family of eyes, but I felt rather ashamed of our glasses
and decanters, so much too much for our thirst. I turned
to look at you, dear love, that I might read my own
thought in you; I gazed deep into your eyes, so beauti-
ful and so strangely sweet, your green eyes that are the
home of caprice and under the sovereignty of the Moon ;
and you said to me: "Those people are insupportable to
me with their staring saucer-eyes! Couldn't you tell
the head waiter to send them away?"
So hard is it to understand one another, dearest, and
so incommunicable is thought, even between people who
are in lovel
He who looks in through an open window never sees
so many things as he who looks at a shut window. There
is nothing more profound, more mysterious, more fertile,
more gloomy, or more dazzling, than a window lighted by
a candle. What we can see in the sunlight is always less
interesting than what goes on behind the panes of a
window. In that lark or luminous hollow, life lives, life
dreams, life suffers.
Across the waves of roofs, I can see a woman of middle
age, wrinkled, poor, who is always leaning over some-
thing, and who never goes out. Out of her face, out of
her dress, out of her attitude, out of nothing almost, I
46 POEMS IN PROSE
have made up the woman's story, and sometimes I say
it over to myself with tears.
If it had been a poor old man, I could have made up
his just as easily.
And I go to bed, proud of having lived and suffered
Perhaps you will say to^me: "Are you sure that it is
the real story?" What does it matter, what does any
reality outside of myself matter, if it has helped me to
live, to feel that I am, and what I am?
It is not given to every man to take a bath of multi-
tude: to play upon crowds is an art; and he alone can
plunge, at the expense of humankind, into a debauch of
vitality, to whom a fairy has bequeathed in his cradle
the love of masks and disguises, the hate of home and
the passion of travel.
Multitude, solitude: equal terms mutually convertible
by the active and begetting poet. He who does not know
how to people his solitude, does not know either how to
be alone in a busy crowd.
The poet enjoys this incomparable privilege, to be at
once himself and others. Like those wandering souls that
\go about seeking bodies, he enters at will the personality
of every man. For him alone, every place is vacant ; and
if certain places seem to be closed against him, that is
because in his eyes they are not worth the trouble of
The solitary and thoughtful walker derives a singular
intoxication from this universal communion. He who
POEMS IN PROSE 47
mates easily with the crowd knows feverish joys that
must be for ever unknown to the egoist, shut up like a
coffer, and to the sluggard, imprisoned like a shell-fish.
He adopts for his own all the occupations, all the joys
and all the sorrows that circumstance sets before him.
What men call love is small indeed, narrow and weak
indeed, compared with this ineffable orgie, this sacred
prostitution of the soul which gives itself up wholly
(poetry and charity!) to the unexpected which happens,
to the stranger as he passes. '
It is good sometimes that the happy of this world
should learn, were it only to humble their foolish pride
for an instant, that there are higher, wider, and rarer
joys than theirs. The founders of colonies, the shep-
herds of nations, the missionary priests, exiled to the
ends of the earth, doubtless know something of these
mysterious intoxications; and, in the midst of the vast
family that their genius has raised about them, they
must sometimes laugh at the thought of those who pity
them for their chaste lives and troubled fortunes.
I WAS travelling. The landscape in the midst of which
I was seated was of an irresistible grandeur and sublim-
ity. Something no doubt at that moment passed from
it into my soul. My thoughts fluttered with a lightness
like that of the atmosphere ; vulgar passions, such as hate
and profane love, seemed to me now as far away as the
clouds that floaied in the gulfs beneath my feet ; my soul
seemed to me as vast and pure as the dome of the sky
that enveloped me; the remembrance of earthly things
came as faintly to my heart as the thin tinkle of the
48 POEMS IN PROSE
bells of unseen herds, browsing far, far away, on the
slope of another mountain. Across the little motionless
. lake, black with the darkness of its immense depth, there
passed from time to time the shadow of a cloud, like the
shadow of an airy giant's cloak, flying through heaven.
And I remember that this rare and solemn sensation^
caused by a vast and perfectly silent movement, filled me
with mingled joy and fear. In a word, thanks to the en-
rapturing beauty about me, I felt that I was at perfect
peace with myself and with the universe; I even believe
that, in my complete forgetfulness of all earthly evil, I
had come to think the newspapers are right after all, and
man was bom good; when, incorrigible matter renewing
its exigencies, I sought to refresh the fatigue and satisfy
the appetite caused by so lengthy a climb. I took from
my pocket a large piece of bread, a leathern cup, and a
small bottle of a certain elixir which the chemists at that
time sold to tourists, to be mixed, on occasion, with liquid
I was quietly cutting my bread when a slight noise
made me look up. I saw in front of me a little ragged
urchin, dark and dishevelled, whose hollow eyes, wild and
supplicating, devoured the piece of bread. And I heard
him gasp, in a low, hoarse voice, the word: *'Cake!" I
could not help laughing at the appellation with which he
thought fit to honour my nearly white bread, and I cut
off a big slice and offered it to him. Slowly he came up
to me, not taking his eyes from the coveted object; then,
snatching it out of my hand, he stepped quickly back, as
if he feared that my offer was not sincere, or that I had
already repented of it.
But at the same instant he was knocked over by an-
other little savage, who had sprung from I know not
where, and who was so precisely like the first that one
might have taken them for twin brothers. They rolled
POEMS IN PROSE 49
over on the ground together, struggling for the posses-
sion of the precious booty, neither willing to share it with
his brother. The first, exasperated, clutched the second
by the hair; and the second seized one of the ears of the
first between his teeth, and spat out a little bleeding
morsel with a fine oath in dialect. The legitimate propri-
etor of the cake tried to hook his little claws into the
usurper's eyes; the latter did his best to throttle his ad-
versary with one hand, while with the other he en-
deavoured to slip the prize of' war into his pocket. But,
heartened by despair, the loser pulled himself together,
and sent the victor sprawling with a blow of the head in
his stomach. Why describe a hideous fight which indeed
lasted longer than their childish strength seemed to prom-
ise? The cake travelled from hand to hand, and changed
from pocket to pocket, at every moment; but, alas, it
changed also in size; and when at length, exhausted,
panting and bleeding, they stopped from the sheer im-
possibility of going on, there was no longer any cause
of feud ; the slice of bread had disappeared, and lay scat-
tered in crumbs like the grains of sand with which it was
The sight had darkened the landscape for me, and dis-
pelled the joyous calm in which my soul had lain bask-
ing; I remained saddened for quite a long time, saying
over and over to myself: "There is then a wonderful
country in which bread is called cake, and is so rare
a delicacy that it is enough in itself to give rise to a war
literally fratricidal ! "
The day is over. A great restfulness descends into
poor minds that the day's work has wearied; and
so POEMS IN PROSE
thoughts take on the tender and dim colours of twilight.
Nevertheless from the mountain peak there comes to
my balcony, through the transparent clouds of evening,
a great clamour, made up of a crowd of discordant cries,
dulled by distance into a mournful harmony, like that
of the rising tide or of a storm brewing.
Who are the hapless ones to whom evening brings no
calm; to whom, as to the owls, the coming of night is
the signal for a witches' sabbat? The sinister ululation
comes to me from the hospital on the mountain; and,
in the evening, as I smoke, and look down on the quiet
of the immense valley, bristling with houses, each of
whose windows seems to say, "Here is peace, here is do-
mestic happiness!" I can, when the wind blows from
the heights, lull my astonished thought with this imita-
tion of the harmonies of hell.
Twilight excites madmen. I remember I had two
friends whom twilight made quite ill. One of them lost
all sense of social and friendly amenities, and flew at the
first-comer like a savage. I have seen him throw at the
waiter's head an excellent chicken, in which he imagined
he had discovered some insulting hieroglyph. Evening,
harbinger of profound delights, spoilt for him the most
The other, a prey to disappointed ambition, turned
gradually, as the daylight dwindled, sourer, more gloomy,
more nettlesome. Indulgent and sociable during the day,
he was pitiless in the evening; and it was not only on
others, but on himself, that he vented the rage of his
The former died mad, unable to recognise his wife and
child ; the latter still keeps the restlessness of a perpetual
disquietude; and, if all the honours that republics and
princes can confer were heaped upon him, I believe that
the twilight would still quicken in him the burning envy
POEMS IN PROSE $1
of imaginary distinctions. Night, which put its own dark-
ness into their minds, brings light to mine; and, though
it is by no means rare for the same cause to bring about
opposite results, I am always as it were perplexed and
alarmed by it.
O night! O refreshing dark! for me you are the sum-
mons to an inner feast, you are the deliverer from an-
guish! In the solitude of the plains, in the stony laby-
rinths of a city, scintillation of stars, outburst of gas-
lamps, you are the fireworks of the goddess Liberty!
Twilight, how gentle you are a«id how tender! The
rosy lights that still linger on the horizon, like the last
agony of day under the conquering might of its night;
the flaring candle-flames that stain with dull red the last
glories of the sunset; the heavy draperies that an in-
visible hand draws out of the depths of the East, mimic
all those complex feelings that war on one another in
the heart of man at the solemn moments of life.
Would you not say that it was one of those strange
costumes worn by dancers, in which the tempered splen-
dours of a shining skirt show through a dark and trans-
parent gauze, as, through the darkness of the present,
pierces the delicious past? And the wavering stars of
gold and silver with which it is shot, are they not those
fires of fancy which take light never so well as under
the deep mourning of the night?
"ANYWHERE OUT OF THE WORLD"
Life is a hospital, in which every patient is possessed
by the desire of changing his bed. One would prefer to
suffer near the fire, and another is certain that he would
get well if he were by the window.
52 POEMS IN PROSE
It seems to me that I should always be happy if I
were somewhere else, and this question of moving house
is one that I am continually talking over with my soul.
"Tell me, my soul, poor chilly soul, what do you say
to living in Lisbon? It must be very warm there, and
you would bask merrily, like a lizard. It is by the sea;
they say that it is built of marble, and that the people
have such a horror of vegetation that they tear up all the
trees. There is a country after your own soul ; a country
made up of light and mineral, and with liquid to reflect
My soul makes no answer.
"Since you love rest, and to see moving things, will
you come and live in that heavenly land, Holland? Per-
haps you would be happy in a country which you have
so often admired in pictures. What do you say to Rot-
terdam, you who love forests of masts, and ships an-
chored at the doors of houses?"
My soul remains silent.
"Or perhaps Java seems to you more attractive? Well,
there we shall find the mind of Europe married to tropi-
Not a word. Can my soul be dead?
"Have you sunk then into so deep a stupor that only
your own pain gives you pleasure? If that be so, let us
go to the lands that are made in the likeness of Death.
I know exactly the place for us, poor soul! We will
book our passage to Torneo. We will go still further,
to the last limits of the Baltic; and, if it be possible,
further still from life; we will make our abode at the
Pole. There the sun only grazes the earth, and the ^ow
alternations of light and night put out variety and bring
in the half of nothingness, monotony. There we can
take great baths of darkness, while, from time to time,
POEMS IN PROSE S3
for our pleasure, the Aurora Boreal is shall scatter its rosy
sheaves before us, like reflections of fireworks in hell ! "
At last my soul bursts into speech, and wisely she
cries to me: "Anywhere, anywhere, out of the world 1"
A HEROIC DEATH
Fancioulle was an admirable buffoon, and almost one
of the friends of the Prince. But for persons profes-
sionally devoted to the comic, serious things have a fatal
attraction, and, strange as it may seem that ideas of
patriotism and liberty should seize despotically upon the
brain of a player, one day Fancioulle joined in a con-
spiracy formed by some discontented nobles.
There exist everywhere sensible men to denounce those
individuals of atrabiliar disposition who seek to depose
princes, and, without consulting it, to reconstitute society.
The lords in question were arrested, together with Fan-
cioulle, and condemned to death.
I would readily believe that the Prince was almost
sorry to find his favourite actor among the rebels. The
Prince was neither better nor worse than any other
Prince; but an excessive sensibility rendered him, in
many cases, more cruel and more despotic than all his
fellows. Passionately enamoured of the fine arts, an ex-
cellent connoisseur as well, he was truly insatiable of
pleasures. Indifferent enough in regard to men and
morals, himself a real artist, he feared no enemy but
Ennui, and the extravagant efforts that he made
to fly or to vanquish this tyrant of the world would
certainly have brought upon him, on the part of
a severe historian, the epithet of "monster," had it
been permitted, in his dominions, to write anything what-
54 POEMS IN PROSE
ever which did not tend exclusively to pleasure, or to
astonishment, which is one of the most delicate forms of
pleasure. The great misfortune of the Prince was that
he had no theatre vast enough for his genius. There are
young Neros who are stifled within too narrow limits,
and whose names and whose intentions will never be
known to future ages. An unforeseeing Providence had
given to this man faculties greater than his dominions.
Suddenly the rumour spread that the sovereign had
decided to pardon all the conspirators; and the origin
of this rumour was the announcement of a special per-
formance in which Faocioulle would play one of his best
roles, and at which even the condemned nobles, it was
said, were to be present, an evident sign, added super-
ficial minds, of the generous tendencies of the Prince.
On the part of a man so naturally and deliber-
ately eccentric, anything was possible, even virtue,
even mercy, especially if he could hope to find in
it unexpected pleasures. But to those who, like
myself, ^had* succeeded in penetrating further into
the depths of this sick and curious soul, it was in-
finitely more probable that the Prince was wishful to
estimate the quality of the scenic talents of a man con-
demned to death. He would profit by the occasion to
obtain a physiological experience of a capital interest,
and to verify to what extent the habitual faculties of an
artist would be altered or modified by the extraordinary
situation in which he found himself. Beyond this, did
there exist in his mind an intention, more or less defined,
of mercy? It is a point that has never been solved.
At last, the great day having come, the little court
displayed all its pomps, and it would be difficult to
realise, without having seen it, what splendour the priv-
ileged classes of a little state with limited resources can
show forth, on a really solemn occasion. This was a
POEMS IN PROSE 55
doubly solemn one, both from the wonder of its display
and from the mysterious moral interest attaching to it.
The Sieur Fancioulle excelled especially in parts either
silent or little burdened with words, such as are often
the principal ones in those fairy plays whose object is
to represent symbolically the mystery of life. He came
upon the stage lightly and with a perfect ease, which in
itself lent some support, in the minds of the noble public,
to the idea of kindness and forgiveness.
When we say of an actor, "This is a good actor," we
make use of a formula which implies that under the per-
sonage we can still distinguish the actor, that is to say,
art, effort, will. Now, if an actor should succeed in be-
ing, in relation to the personage whom he is appointed
to express, precisely what the finest statues of antiquity,
miraculously animated, living, walking, seeing, would be
in relation to the confused general idea of beauty, this
would be, undoubtedly, a singular and unheard of case.
Fancioulle was, that evening, a perfect idealisation,
which it was impossible not to suppose living, possible,
real. The buffoon came and went, he laughed, wept, was
convulsed with an indestructible aureole about his head,
an aureole invisible to all, but visible to me, and in which
were blended, in a strange amalgam, the rays of Art and
the martyr's glory. Fancioulle brought, by I know not
what special grace, something divine and supernatural
into even the most extravagant buffooneries. My pen
trembles, and the tears of an emotion which I' cannot
forget rise to my eyes, as I try to describe to you this
never-to-be-forgotten evening. Fancioulle proved to me,
in a peremptory, an irrefutable way, that the intoxication
of Art is surer than all others to veil the terrors of the
gulf; that genius can act a comedy on the threshold of
the grave with a joy that binders it from seeing the
$6 POEMS IN PROSE
grave, lost, as it is, in a Paradise shutting out all thought,
of the grave and of destruction.
The whole audience, blase and frivolous as it was, soon
fell under the all-powerful sway of the artist. Not a
thought was left of death, of mourning, or of punishment.
All gave themselves up, without disquietude, to the mani-
fold delights caused by the sight of a masterpiece of
living art. Explosions of joy and admiration again and
again shook the dome of the edifice with the energy of a
continuous thunder. The Prince himself, in an ecstasy,
joined in the applause of his court.
Nevertheless, to a discerning eye, his emotion was not
unmixed. Did he feel himself conquered in his power
as despot? humiliated in his art as the striker of terror
into hearts, of chill into souls? Such suppositions, not
exactly justified, but not absolutely unjustifiable, passed
through my mind as I contemplated the face of the
Prince, on which a new pallor gradually overspread its
habitual paleness, as snow overspreads snow. His lips
compressed themselves tighter and tighter, and his eyes
lighted up with an inner fire like that of jealousy or of
spite, even while he applauded the talents of his old
friend, the strange buffoon, who played the buffoon so
well in the face of death. At a certain moment, I saw
his Highness lean towards a little page, stationed behind
him, and whisper in his ear. The roguish face of the
pretty child lit up with a smile, and he briskly quitted
the Prince's box as if to execute some urgent commis-
A few minutes later a shrill and prolonged hiss inter-
rupted Fancioulle in one of his finest moments, and rent
alike every ear and heart. And from the part of the
house from whence this unexpected note of disapproval
had sounded, a child darted into a corridor with stifled
POEMS IN PROSE 57
Fancioulle, shaken, roused out of his dream, closed his
eyes, then re-opened them, almost at once, extraordi-
narily wide, opened his mouth as if to breathe convul-
sively, staggered a little forward, a little backward, and
then fell stark dead on the boards.
Had the hiss, swift as a sword, really frustrated the
hangman? Had the Prince himself divined all the homi-
cidal efficacy of his ruse? It is permitted to doubt it.
Did he regret his dear and inimitable Fancioulle? It is
sweet and legitimate to believe it.
The guilty nobles had enjoyed the performance of
comedy for the last time. They were effaced from life.
Since then, many mimes, justly appreciated in differ-
ent countries, have played before the court of ; but
none of them have ever been able to recall the marvellous
talents of Fancioulle, or to rise to the same javotar,
Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the
only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden
of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to
the earth, be drunken continually.
Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with
virtue, as you will. But be drunken.
And i£ sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the
green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your
own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be
half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind,
or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the
clock, of whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or
speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star,
bird, clock, will answer you: "It is the hour to be
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drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred
slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine,
with poetry, or with virtue, as you will."
With heart at rest I climbed the citadel's
Steep height, and saw the city as from a tower.
Hospital, brothel, prison, and such hells.
Where evil comes up softly like a flower.
Thou knowest, O Satan, patron of my pain,
Not for vain tears I went up at that hour;
But, like an old sad faithful lecher, fain
To drink delight of that enormous trull
Whose hellish beauty makes me young again.
Whether thou sleep, with heavy vapours full.
Sodden with day, or, new apparelled, stand
In gold-laced veils of evening beautiful,
I love thee, infamous city! Harlots and
Hunted have pleasures of their own to give.
The vulgar herd can never understand.
POEMS IN PROSE
Translated by Joseph T. Shipley
My dear Friend:
I send you a little work of v/hich it cannot be said,
without injustice, that it has neither head nor tail ; since
all of it, on the contrary, is at once head and tail, alter-
nately and reciprocally. Consider, I pray you, what con-
venience this arrangement offers to all of us, to you, to
me and to the reader. We can stop where we wish, I my
musing, you your consideration, and the reader his pe-
rusal — for I do not hold the latter's restive will by the
interminable thread of a fine-spun intrigue. Remove a
vertebra, and the two parts of this tortuous fantasy re-
join painlessly. Chop it into particles, and you will
see that each part can exist by itself. In the hope that
some of these segments will be lively enough to please
and to amuse you, I venture to dedicate to you the entire
I have a little confession to make. It was while glanc-
ing, for at least the twentieth time, through the famous
Gaspard de la Nuit, by Aloysius Bertrand (a book
kndwn to you, to me, and to a few of our friends, has it
not the highest right to be called famous?), that the
idea came to me to attempt an analogous plan, and to
apply to the description of modern life, or rather of a
life modern and more abstract, the process which he ap-
plied in the depicting of ancient life, so strangely pic-
Which of us has not, in his moments of ambition,
62 POEMS IN PROSE
dreamed the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without
rhythm or rime, sufficiently supple, sufficiently abrupt, to
adapt itself to the lyrical movements of the soul, to the
windings and turnings of the fancy, to the sudden starts
of the conscience?
It is particularly in ifrequenting great cities, it is from
the flux of their innumerable streams of intercourse, that
this importunate ideal is born. Have not you yourself,
my dear friend, tried to convey in a chanson the strident
cry of the glazier, and to express in a lyric prose all the
grievous suggestions that cry bears even to the house-
tops, through the heaviest mists of the street?
But, to speak truth, I fear that my jealousy has not
brought me good fortune. As soon as I had begun the
work, I saw that not only was I laboring far, far, from
my mysterious and brilliant model, but that I was reach-
ing an accomplishment (if it can be called an accomplish-
ment) peculiarly different — accident of which all others
would doubtless be proud, but which can but profoundly
humiliate a mind which considers it the highest honor
of the poet to achieve exactly what he has planned.
It was the outburst of the New Year: chaos of mud
and snow, crossed by a thousand coaches, sparkling with
baubles and gewgaws, swarming with desires and with
despairs, official folly of a great city made to weaken
the fortitude of the firmest eremite.
In the midst of this hubbub and tumult, a donkey was
trotting along, tormented by a lout with a horsewhip.
As the donkey was about to turn a corner, a fine fellow,
gloved, polished, with a merciless cravat, and impris-
oned in impeccable garments, bowed ceremoniously be-
fore the beast; said to it, removing his hat: "I greet
thee, good and happy one"; and turned towards some
companions with a fatuous air, as though requesting
them to add their approbation to his content.
The donkey did not see the clever jester, and con-
tinued steadily where its duty called.
As for me, I was overcome by an inordinate rage
against the sublime idiot, who seemed to me to concen-
trate in himself the wit of France.
THE DOG AND THE VIAL
"My pretty dog, my good dog, my doggy dear, come
and smell this excellent perfume bought at the best scent-
shop in the city."
And the dog, wagging its tail, which is, I think, the
poor creature's substitute for a laugh or a smile, ap-
64 POEMS IN PROSE
preached and curiously placed its damp nose to the
opened vial ; then, recoiling with sudden fright, it growled
at me in reproach.
"Ah! wretched dog, if I had offered you a mass of ex-
crement, you would have smelled it with delight, and
probably have devoured it. So even you, unworthy com-
panion of my unhappy life, resemble the public, to whom
one must never offer delicate perfumes, which exasperate,
but carefully raked-up mire."
THE WILD WOMAN AND THE COQUETTE
"Really, my dear, you tire me immeasurably and un-
pityingly ; one would say, to hear you sigh, that you suf-
fered more than the sexagenarian gleaners or the old beg-
gar hags who pick up crusts at the doors of restaurants.
"If at least your sighs expressed remorse, they would
do you some honor; but they convey merely the surfeit
of well-being and the languor of repose. And, too, you
will not stop your constant flow of needless words: 'Love
me well! I have so much need! Comfort me thus, caress
"Come! I shall try to cure you; perhaps we shall find
a means, for two cents, in the midst of a fair, not far
"Take a good look, I pray you, at this strong iron
cage, within which moves, howling like a damned soul,
shaking the bars like an ourang-outang enraged by exile,
imitating to perfection, now the circular bounds of the
tiger, now the clumsy waddling of the polar bear, that
hairy monster whose form vaguely resembles your own.
"That monster is one of those beasts one usually calls
*my angel' — that is, a woman. The other monster, he
who bawls at the top of his voice, club in his hand, is a
husband. He has chained his lawful wife like a beast,
POEMS IN PROSE 65
and he exhibits her in the suburbs on fair days — with the
magistrates' permission, of course.
"Pay close attention. See with what voracity (per-
haps not feigned) she tears apart the living rabbits and
the cackling fowl her keeper throws her. 'Come,' he says,
'one must not eat one's whole store in a day'; and, with
that wise word, he cruelly snatches the prey, the winding
entrails of which remain a moment caught on the teeth
of the ferocious beast — I mean, the woman.
"Come! A good blow to calm her! for she darts ter-
rible glances of lust at the stolen food. Good God! The
club is not a jester's slap stick! Did you hear the flesh
resound, right through the artificial hair? Her eyes leap
from her head now; she howls more naturally. In her
rage she sparkles all over, like smitten iron.
"Such are the conjugal customs of these two children
of Adam and Eve, these works of Thy hands, O my
God! This woman is doubtless miserable, though after
all, perhaps, the titillating joys of glory are not unknown
to her. There are misfortunes less remediable, and with
no compensation. But in the world to which she has
been thrown, she has never been able to think that
woman might deserve a different destiny.
"Now, as for us two, my fine lady! Seeing the hells
of which the world is made, what would you have me
think of your pretty hell, you who rest only on stuffs
as soft as your own skin, who eat only cooked viands,
for whom a skilled domestic takes care to cut the bites?,
"And what can mean to me all these soft signs which
heave your perfumed breast, my lusty coquette? And
all those affectations learned from books, and that ever-
lasting melancholy, intended to arouse an emotion far
other than pity? Indeed, I sometimes feel like teaching
you what true misfortune means.
"Seeing you so, my beautiful dainty one, your feet in
66 POEMS IN PROSE
the mire and your moist eyes turned to the sky, as though
to demand a king, one would say indeed: a young frog
invoking the ideal. If you scorn the log (which I am
now, you know), beware the stork which will kill, swal-
low, devour you at its caprice.
"Poet as I am, I am not such a fool as you may think,
and if you tire me too often with your whining affecta-
tions, I shall treat you as a wild woman, or throw you
through the window as an empty flask."
THE OLD MOUNTEBANK
Everywhere the holiday crowd was parading, spread
out, merry making. It was one of those festivals on
which mountebanks, tricksters, animal trainers and itin-
erant merchants had long been relying, to compensate
for the dull seasons of the year.
On such days it seems to me the people forget all, sad-
ness and work; they become children. For the little
ones, it is a day of leave, the horror of the school put off
twenty-four hours. For the grown-ups, it is an armistice,
concluded with the malevolent forces of life, a respite in
the universal contention and struggle.
The man of the world himself, and even he who is oc-
cupied with spiritual tasks, with difficulty escape the in-
fluence of this popular jubilee. They absorb, without
volition, their part of the atmosphere of devil-may-care.
As for me, I never fail, like a true Parisian, to inspect
all the booths that flaunt themselves in these solemn
They made, in truth, a formidable gathering: they
bawled, bellowed, howlfed. It was a mingling of cries,
of blaring of brass and bursting of rockets. The clowns
and the simpletons convulsed the features of their
swarthy faces, hardened by wind, rain, and sun; they
POEMS IN PROSE 67
hurled forth, with the assurance of comedians certain of
their wares, witticisms and pleasantries of a humor solid
and heavy as that of Moliere. The Hercules, proud of
the enormousness of their limbs, without forehead, with-
out cranium, stalked majestically about under fleshings
fresh washed for the occasion. The dancers, pretty as
fairies or as princesses, leapt and cavorted under the
flare of lanterns which filled their skirts with sparkles.
All was light, dust, shouting, joy, tumult; some spent,
others gained, the one and the other equally joyful. Chil-
dren clung to their mothers' skirts to obtain a sugar-stick,
or climbed upon their fathers' shoulders the better to see
a conjurer dazzling as a god. And spread over all, domi-
nating every odor, was a smell of frying, which was the
incense of the festival.
At the end, at the extreme end of the row of booths,
as if, ashamed, he had exiled himself from all these splen-
dors, I saw an old mountebank, stooped, decrepit, ema-
ciated, a ruin of a man, leaning against one of the pil-
lars of his hut, more wretched than that of the most
besotted barbarian, the distress of which two candle
ends, guttering and smoking, lighted up only too well.
Everywhere was joy, gain, revelry; everywhere cer-
tainty of the morrow's bread; everywhere the frenetic
outbursts of vitality. Here, absolute misery, misery be-
decked, to crown the horror, in comic tatters, where ne-
cessity, rather than art, produced the contrast. He was
not laughing, the wretched one! He was not weeping,
he was not dancfng, he was not gesticulating, he was not
crying. He was singing no song, gay or grievous, he
was imploring no one. He was mute and immobile. He
had renounced, he had withdrawn. His destiny was ac-
But what a deep, unforgettable look he cast over the
crowd and the li^ts, the moving stream of which was
68 POEMS IN PROSE
stemmed a few yards from his repulsive wretchedness!
I felt my throat clutched by the terrible hand of hys-
teria, and it seemed as though glajices were clouded by
rebellious tears that would not fall.
What was to be done? What good was there in asking
the unfortunate what curiosity, what marvel had he to
show within those barefaced shades, behind that thread-
bare curtain? In truth, I dar»;d not; and, although the
reason for my timidity will make you laugh, I confess
that I was afraid of humiliating him. At length, I had
resolved to drop a coin while passing his boards, in the
hope that he would divine my purpose, when a great
backwash of people, produced by I know not what dis-
turbance, carried me far away.
And leaving, obsessed by the sight, I sought to analyze
my sudden sadness, and I said: "I have just seen the
image of the aged man of letters, who has survived the
generation of which he was the brilliant entertainer; of
the old poet, friendless, without family, without child,
degraded by his misery and by public ingratitude, into
whose booUi a forgetful world no longer wants to go!"
The Chinese tell the time in the eyes of cats. One
day a missionary, walking in the suburbs of Nanking,
noticed that he had forgotten his watch, and asked a little
boy what time it was.
The youngster of the heavenly Empire hesitated at
first; then, carried away by his thought he answered:
"I'll tell you." A few moments later he reappeared,
bearing in his arms an immense cat, and looking, as they
say, into the whites of its eyes, he announced without
hesitation: "It's not quite noon." Which was the fact.
As for me, if I turn toward the fair feline, to her so
POEMS IN PROSE 69
aptl)'^ named, who is at once the honor of her sex, the
pride of my heart and the fragrance of my mind, be it
by night or by day, in the full light or in the opaque
shadows, in the depths of her adorable eyes I always tell
the time distinctly, always the same, a vast, a solemn
hour, large as space, without division of minutes or of
seconds, — an immovable hour which is not marked on
the clocks, yet is slight as a sigh, is rapid as the lift-
ing of a lash.
And if some intruder comes to disturb me while my
glance rests upon that charming dial, if some rude and
intolerant genie, some demon of the evil hour, comes to
ask: "What are you looking at so carefully? What are
you hunting for in the eyes of that being? Do you see
the time there, mortal squanderer and do-nothing?" I
shall answer, unhesitant: "Yes, I see the time, it is Eter-
Is not this, madame, a really worth-while madrigal,
just as affected as yourself? Indeed, I have had so much
pleasure in embroidering this pretentious gallantry, that
I shall ask you for nothing in exchange.
A HEMISPHERE IN A TRESS
Let me breathe, long, long, of the odor of your hair,
let me plunge my whole face in its depth, as a thirsty
man in the waters of a spring, let me flutter it with my
hand as a perfumed kerchief, to shake off memories into
If you could know all that I see! all that I feel! all
that I understand in your hair! My soul journeys on
perfumes as the souls of other men on music.
Your hair meshes a full dream, crowded with sails and
masts; it holds great seas on which monsoons bear me
toward charming climes, where the skies are bluer and
70 POEMS IN PROSE
deeper, where the atmosphere is perfumed with fruits,
with leaves, and with the human skin.
In the ocean of your hair I behold a port humming
with melancholy chants, with strong men of all nations
and with ships of ^ery form carving their delicate, intri-
cate architecture on an enormous sky where lolls eter-
In the caresses of your hair, I find again the languor
of long hours on a divan, in the cabin of a goodly ship,
cradled by the unnoticed undulation of the port, between
pots of flowers and refreshing water-jugs.
At the glowing hearth-stone of your hair, I breathe the
odor of tobacco mixed with opium and sugar; in the
night of your hair, I see shine forth the infinite of the
tropic sky; on the downy bank-sides of your hair, I
grow drunk with the mingled odors of tar and musk,
and oil of cocoanut.
Let me bite, long, your thick black hair. When I
nibble your springy, rebellious hair, it seems that I am
THE PLAYTHING OF THE POOR
I SHOULD like to give you an idea for an innocent
diversion. There are so few amusements that are not
When you go out in the morning for a stroll along the
highways, fill your pockets with little penny contriv-
ances — such as the straight merryandrew moved by a
single thread, the blacksmiths who strike the anvil, the
rider and his horse, with a whistle for a tail — and, along
the taverns, at the foot of the trees, make presents of
them to the unknown poor children whom you meet.
You will see their eyes grow beyond all measure. At
first, they will not dare to take; they will doubt their
POEMS IN PROSE 71
good fortune. Then their hands will eagerly seize the
gift, and they will flee as do the cats who go far off
to eat the bit you have given them, having learned
to distrust man. ^
On a road, behind the rail of a great garden at the foot
of which appeared the glitter of a beautiful mansion
struck by the sun, stood a pretty, fresh child, clad in
those country garments' so full of affectation.
Luxury, freedom from care, and the habitual spectacle
of wealth, make these children so pretty that one would
think them formed of other paste than the sons of me-
diocrity or of poverty.
Beside him on the grass lay a splendid toy, fresh as
its master, varnished, gilt, clad in a purple robe, cov-
ered with plumes and beads of glass. But the child was
not occupied with his favored plaything, and this is
what he was watching:
On the other side of the rail, on the road, among the
thistles and the thorns, was another child, puny, dirty,
fuliginous, one of those pariah-brats the beauty of which
an impartial eye might discover if, as the eye of the con-
noisseur divines an ideal painting beneath the varnish of
the coach-maker, it cleansed him of the repugnant patina
Across the symbolic bars which separate two worlds,
the highway and the mansion, the poor child was showing
the rich child his own toy, which the latter examined
eagerly, as a rare and unknown object. Now, this toy,
which the ragamuffin was provoking, tormenting, tossing
in a grilled box, was a live rat! His parents, doubtless for
economy, had taken the toy from life itself.
And the two children were laughing together frater-
nally, with teeth of equal whiteness t
72 POEMS IN PROSE
THE GIFTS OF THE FAIRIES
It was that great assembly of the fairies, to proceed
with the repartition of gifts among the new-born who
had arrived at life within the last twenty-four hours.
All these antique and capricious sisters of destiny, all
these bizarre mothers of sadness and of joy, were most
diversified : some had a somber, crabbed air ; others were
wanton, mischievous; some, young, who had always been
young; others old, who had always been old.
All the fathers who believed in fairies had come, each
bearing his new-bom in his arms.
Gifts, Faculties, Good Fortunes, Invincible Circum-
stances, were gathered at the side of the tribunal, as
prizes on the platform for distribution. What was pe-
culiar here was that the gifts were not the reward of an
effort, but, quite the contrary, a grace accorded him
who had not yet lived, a grace with power to determine
his destiny and become as well the source of his misfor-
tune as of his good.
The poor fairies were kept very busy; for the crowd
of solicitors was great, and the intermediate world, placed
between man and God, is subject, like man, to the ter-
rible law of Time and his endless offspring, Days, Hours,
In truth, they were as bewildered as ministers on an
audience day, or as guards at the Mont-de-Piete when
a national holiday authorizes gratuitous liberations. I
really think that from time to time they looked at the
hands of the clock with as much impatience as human
judges, who, sitting since morn, cannot'help dreaming of
dinner, of the family, and of their cherished slippers.
If, in supernatural justice, there is a little of haste and
POEMS IN PROSE 73
of luck, we should not be surprised sometimes to find
the same in human justice. We ourselves, in that case,
would be unjust judges.
So some shams were enacted that day which might
be thought bizarre, if prudence, rather than caprice,
were the distinctive, eternal characteristic of the fairies.
For instance, the power of magnetically attracting for-
tune was awarded the sole heir of a very wealthy fam-
ily, who, endowed with no feeling of charity, no more
than with lust for the most visible goods of life, must
later on find himself prodigiously embarrassed by his
Thus, love of the beautiful and poetic power were
given to the son of a gloomy knave, a quarry-man by
trade, who could in no way develop the faculties or sat-
isfy the needs of his deplorable offspring.
All the fairies rose, thinking their task was through;
for there remained no gift, no bounty, to hurl at all that
human fry, when one fine fellow, a poor little trades-
man, I think, rose, and grasping by her robe of multi-
colored vapors the Fairy nearest at hand, cried:
"Oh, Madam! You are forgetting us! There is still
my little one! I don't want to have come for nothing!"
The fairy could have been embarrassed, for there no
longer was a thing. However, she recalled in time a
law, well known, though rarely applied, in the super-
natural world, inhabited by those impalpable deities,
friends, of man and often constrained to mold them-
selves to his passions, such as Fairies, Gnomes, Sala-
manders, Sylphides, Sylphs, Nixies, Watersprites and Un-
dines — I mean the law which grants a Fairy, in a case
similar to this, namely, in case of the exhausting of the
prizes, power to give one more, supplementary and ex-
ceptional, provided always that she has sufficient imagi-
nation to create it at once.
74 POEMS IN PROSE
Accordingly the good Fairy responded, with self-pos-
session worthy of her rank: ''I give to your son . . .
I give him . . . the gift of pleasing/"
"Pleasing? How? Pleasing? Why?" obstinately asked
the little shopkeeper, who was doubtless one of those
logicians so commonly met, incapable of rising to the
logic of the Absurd.
"Because! Because!" replied the incensed Fairy, turn-
ing her back on him; and, rejoining the train of her
companions, she said to them: "What do you think of
this little vainglorious Frenchman, who wants to know
everything, and who, having secured for his son the best
of gifts, dares still to question and to dispute the indis-
A PHILANTHROPIC joumalist once said to me that soli-
tude is harmful to man, and, to support his thesis, he
cited — as do all unbelievers — words of the Christian
I know that the Demon gladly frequents parched
places, and that the spirit of murder and lechery is mar-
vellously inflamed in solitude. But it is possible that
solitude is dangerous only to the idle, rambhng soul, who
peoples it with his passions and his chimeras.
It is certain that a babbler, whose supreme pleasure
consists in speaking from a pulpit or a rostrum, would
be talcing great chances of going stark mad on the is-
land of Crusoe. I do not demand of my journalist the
courageous virtues of Robinson, but I ask that he do not
summon in accusation lovers of solitude and mystery.
There are in our chattering races individuals who
would accept the supreme agony with less reluctance, if
they were permitted to deliver a copious harangue from
POEMS IN PROSE 75
the height of the scaffold, without fear that the drums of
Santerre* would unseasonably cut short their oration.
I do not pity them, for I guess that their oratorical ef-
fusions bring them delights equal to those which others
draw from silence and seclusion; but I despise them.
I desire above all that my accursed journalist leave
me to amuse myself as I will. "Then you never feel,"
he says in a very apostolic nasal tone, "the need of shar-
ing your joys?" Do you see the subtle jealous one! He
knows that I scorn his, and he comes to insinuate himself
into mine, the horrible killjoy!
"The great misfortune of not being able to be alone,"
La Bruyere says somewhere, as though to shame those
who rush to forget themselves in the crowd, fearing,
doubtless, that they will be unable to endure themselves.
"Almost all our ills come to us from inability to remain
in our room," said another sage, Pascal, I believe, recall-
ing thus in the cell of meditation the frantic ones who
seek happiness in animation, and in a prostitution which
I could call fratemary, if I wished to use the fine lan-
guage of mjj century.
He said to himself, while strolling in the great lonely
park: "How beautiful she would be in an intricate, gor-
geous court costume, descending, through the air of a
beauteous evening, the marble stairs of a palace, oppo-
site shallow pools and great greenswards. For she has
naturally the air of a princess."
Passing along a street somewhat later, he stopped be-
fore a print-shop, and finding in a portfolio an engrav-
ing of a tropical scene, he said: "No, it is not in a palace
* Santerre is the general of the French Revolution who or-
dered his drummers to play, drowning the words of Louis
XVI from the scaffold.
76 POEMS IN PROSE
that I should like to be master of her beloved life. We
would not feel at home. Besides, walls riddled with
gold would afford no niche to hold her likeness; in those
solemn galleries there is no intimate comer. Decidedly
it is there I must live to develop the dream of my Iffe."
And, analyzing the details of the engraving, he con-
tinued mentally: ''At the edge of the sea, a little log cabin,
surrounded by those shiny, bizarre trees, the names of
which I have forgotten ... in the air, an indefinable,
intoxicating perfume ... in the cabin, a potent fra-
grance of rose and of musk . . . farther off, behind
our little domain, mast-tops swaying with the swell
around us, beyond the room lighted by a roseate glow
sifted through the blinds, adorned with fresh matting
and intoxicating flowers, with rare benches of Portuguese
rococo, of a heavy and shadowy wood (where she will
rest, so calm, so gently fanned, smoking tobacco tinged
with opium), beyond the timbers of the ships, the racket
of the birds drunk with the light, and the chattering of
little negresses . . . and, at night, to serve as accom-
paniment to my musings, the plaintive song of musical
trees, of melancholy beef -woods! Yes, in truth, there
indeed is the setting that I seek. What have I to do
And still farther, as he followed a great avenue, he
noticed a well-kept tavern, from a window of which,
enlivened by curtains of checkered prints, two laughing
heads leaned forth. And at once: "My fancy," he said,
"must be a great vagabond to seek so far what is so
near to me. Pleasure and good fortune are in the near-
est tavern, in the chance tavern, so rich in happiness. A
great fire, gaudy earthenware, a tolerable meal, rough
wine, and an enormous bed with cloths somewhat coarse,
but fresh; what more could be desired?"
And returning home, alone, at the hour when the coun-
POEMS IN PROSE 77
sels of Wisdom are not drowned by the hum of external
life, he said: "I have had to-day, in my revery, three
dwellings in which I have found equal pleasure. Why
constrain my body to move about, when my soul voy-
ages so freely? And to what end carry out projects,
when the project itself is a sufficing joy?"
THE LOVELY DOROTHEA
The sun pours down upoo the city with its direct and
terrible light; the sand is dazzling, and the sea glistens.
The stupefied world sinks cowardly down and holds si-
esta, a siesta which is a sort of delightful death, in which
the sleeper, half-awake, enjoys the voluptuousness of his
None the less, Dorothea, strong and proud as the sun,
advances along the deserted street, alone animated at
that hour, under the immense blue sky, forming a star-
tling black spot against the light.
She advances, lightly, balancing her slender trunk upon
her so large hips. Her close-fitting silk dress, of a clear,
roseate fashion, stands out vividly against the darkness
of her skin and is exactly molded to her long figure, her
rounded back and her pointed throat.
Her red parasol, sifting the light, throws over her
dark face the bloody disguise of its reflection.
The weight of her enormous, blue-black hair draws
back her delicate head and gives her a triumphant, indo-
lent bearing. Heavy pendants tinkle quietly at her deli-
From time to time the sea-breeze lifts the hem of her
flowing' skirt and reveals her shining, superb limbs; and
her foot, a match for the feet of the marble goddesses
whom Europe locks in its museums, faithfully imprints
its form in the fine sand. For Dorothea is such a won-
78 POEMS IN PROSE
drous coquette, that the pleasure of being admired over-
comes the pride of the enfranchised, and, although she
is free, she walks without shoes.
She advances thus, harmoniously, glad to be alive,
smiling an open smile; as if she saw, far off in space, a
mirroi. reflecting her walk and her beauty.
At the hour when dogs moan with pain under the tor-
menting sun, what powerful motive can thus draw forth
the indolent Dorothea, lovely, and cold as bronze?
Why had she left her little cabin, so coquettishly
adorned, the flowers and mats of which make at so little
cost a perfect boudoir; where she takes such .delight in
combing herself, in smoking, in being fanned, or in re-
garding herself in the mirror with its great fans of
plumes ; while the sea, which strikes the shore a hundred
steps away, shapes to her formless reveries a mighty and
monotonous accompaniment, and while the iron pot, in
which a ragout of crabs with saffron and rice is cook-
ing, sends after her, from the courtyard, its stimulating
Perhaps she has a rendezvous with some young officer,
who, on far distant shores, heard his comrades talk of the
renowned Dorothea. Infallibly she will beg him, simple
creature, to describe to her the Bal de I'Opera, and will
ask him if one can go there barefoot, as to the Sunday
dances, where the old Kaffir women themselves get drunk
and mad with joy; and then, too, whether the lovely
ladies of Paris are all lovelier than she.
Dorothea is admired and pampered by all, and she
would be perfectly happy if she were not obliged to
amass piastre on piastre to buy back her little sister,
who is now fully eleven, and who is already mature, and
so lovely! She will doubtless succeed, the good Doro-
thea; the child's master is so miserly, too miserly to
understand another beauty than that of gold.
POEMS IN PROSE 79
THE COUNTERFEIT MONEY
As we were moving away from the tobacconist's, my
companion carefully sorted his money: in the left pocket
of his waistcoat he slipped little gold pieces ; in the right,
little silver pieces; in the left pocket of his trousers, a
mass of coppers, and finally, in the right, a silver two-
franc pieces that he had particularly examined.
"Singular and minute distribution!" I said to myself.
We came across a pauper who, trembling, held forth
his cap, — I know nothing more disquieting than the
dumb eloquence of those suppliant eyes which hold, for
the sensitive man who can read within, both so great
humility and so deep reproach. Something lies there
which approaches that depth of complex feeling in the
tearful eyes of dogs that are being flogged.
The offering of my friend was much more considerable
than mine, and I said to him: "You are right; after the
pleasure of being astonished, none is greater than that
of creating a surprise." — "It was the counterfeit," he
answered tranquilly, as though to justify his prodigality.
But in my miserable brain, always busied seeking
noon at two p.m. (of such a wearying faculty has nature
made me a gift!), the idea suddenly came that such
conduct, on the part of my friend, was excusable only
by the desire to produce an occasion in the life of the
poor devil, perhaps even to know the diverse conse-
quences, disastrous or otherwise, that a counterfeit in
the hands of a mendicant can engender. Could it not
multiply itself in valid pieces? Could it not also lead
him, to jail? A tavern-keeper, a baker, for example,
might perhaps have him arrested as a forger or a spreader
of counterfeits. Quite as well the counterfeit coin might
8o POEMS IN PROSE
be, for a poor little speculator, the germ of a several
days' wealth. And so my fancy ran its course, lending
wings to the spirit of my friend and drawing all pos-
sible deductions from all imaginable hypotheses.
But he abruptly burst my revery asunder by taking
up my own words: "Yes, you are right: there is no
sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him
more than he expected."
I looked into the whites of his eyes, and I was fright-
ened to see that his eyes shone with an undeniable can-
dor. I then saw clearly that he wished to combine char-
ity and a good stroke of business; to gain forty sous and
the heart of God; to sweep into Paradise economically;
in short, to entrap gratis the brevet of charitable man.
I would almost have pardoned in him the desire of the
criminal joy of which I had just now thought him ca-
pable! I would have thought it curious, singular, that
he found«it amusing to compromise the poor; but I shall
never pardon the ineptitude of his calculation. One is
never to be forgiven for being wicked, but there is some
merit in being conscious that one is; — the most irrepar-
able of all evils is to do wrong through stupidity.
THE GENEROUS PLAYER
Yesterday, in the crowd of the boulevard, I felt my-
self grazed by a mysterious Being whom I have always
wished to know, and whom I recognized at once, though
I had never seen him. He doubtless had a similar wish
to make my acquaintance, for he gave me a significant
wink in passing which I hastened to obey. I followed
him attentively, and soon I descended behind him into
a resplendent subterranean abode, where sparkled a lux-
ury that none of the better homes in Paris can nearly
POEMS IN PROSE 8i
approach. It seemed odd to me that I could have passed
by this enchanting den so often without divining the en-
trance. There reigned an exquisite, though heady atmos-
phere, which made one forget ahnost at once all the fas-
tidious horrors of life; there one breathed a somber
blessedness, similar to that which the lotus-eaters experi-
enced when, disembarking on an enchanted isle, bright
with the glimmerings of eternal afternoon, they felt
growing within them, to the drowsy sound of melodious
cascades, the desire never to see again their hearthstones,
their wives, their children, and never to remount the
high surges of the sea.
Strange visages of men and women were there, marked
with a fatal beauty, which it seemed to me I had already
seen in epochs and in lands I could not precisely recall,
and which inspired me rather with a fraternal sympathy
than with that fear which is usually born at sight of the
unknown. If I wished to try to define in any way the
singular expression of these visages, I should say that I
had never seen eyes burning more feverishly with dread
of ennui and with the immortal desire of feeling them-
My host and I were already, when we sat down, old
and perfect friends. We ate, we drank beyond measure
of all sorts of extraordinary wines, and — what was no
less extraordinary — it seemed to me, after several hours,
that I was no more drunken than he. Play, that super-
human pleasure, had meanwhile irregularly interrupted
our frequent libations, and I must say that I staked and
lost my soul, at the rubber, with heroic heedlessness and
lightness. The soul is so impalpable a thing, so often
useless and sometimes so annoying, that I experienced,
at its loss, a little less emotion than if, on a walk, I had
misplaced my visiting card. For a long time we smoked
some cigars the incomparable savor and perfume of
82 POEMS IN PROSE
v/hich gave the soul nostalgia for unknown lands and
joys, and, intoxicated with all these delights, I dared,
in an access of familiarity which seemed not to displease
him, to cry, while mastering a cup full to the brim: "To
your immortal health, old Buck!"
We talked, also, of the universe, of its creation
and of its future destruction; of the great idea of
the century, namely, progress and perfectibility; and,
in general, of all forms of human infatuation. On this
subject, His Highness never exhausted his fund of light
and irrefutable pleasantries, and he expressed himself
with an easy flow of speech and a quietness in his droll-
ery that I have found in none of the most celebrated
causeurs of humanity. He explained to me the absurd-
ity of the different philosophies which have hitherto
taken possession of the human brain, and deigned even to
confide to me certain fundamental principles, the prop-
erty and the benefits of which it does not suit me to
share with the casual comer. He did not in any way be-
moan the bad reputation which he enjoys in all parts
of the world, assured me that he himself was the person
most interested in the destruction of superstition, and
confessed that he had never feared for his own power
save once, on the day when he had heard a preacher,
more subtle than his colleagues, cry from the pulpit:
"My dear brethren, never forget, when you hear the
progress of wisdom vaunted, that the cleverest ruse of
the Devil is to persuade you he does not exist!"
The memory of this celebrated orator led us naturally
to the subject of the academies, and my strange com-
panion stated that he did not disdain, in many cases, to
inspire the pen, the word, and the conscience of pedagogs,
and that he was almost always present, though invisible,
at the academic sessions.
Encouraged by so many kindnesses, I asked him for
POEMS IN PROSE 85
news of God, and whether he had recently seen Him.
He answered, with a carelessness shaded with a certain
sadness: ''We greet one another when we meet, but as
two old gentlemen, in whom an innate politeness can-
not extinguish the memory of ancient bitterness."
It is doubtful that His Highness had ever granted so
long an audience to a plain mortal, and I was afraid
of abusing it. Finally, as the shivering dawn whitened
the panes, this famous personage, sung by so many poets
and served by so many philosophers who have worked
unknowingly for his glory, said to me: "I want to leave
you with a pleasant memory of me, and to prove that I,
of whom so much ill is said, I can sometimes be a good
devil, to make use of one of your common phrases. In
order to compensate for the irremediable loss of your
soul, I shall give you the stakes you would have won
had fate been with you, namely, the possibility of reliev-
ing and of conquering, all through your life, that odd af-
fection of ennui which is the source of all your maladies
and of all your wretched progress. Never shall a desire
be framed by you which I will not aid you to realize;
you shall reign over your vulgar fellow-men; you shall
be stocked with flattery, even with adoration; silver,
gold, diamonds, fairylike palaces, shall come seeking you
and shall pray you to accept them, without your having
made an effort to attain them; you shall change father-
land and country as often as your fancy may dictate; .
you shall riot in pleasures, unwearying, in charming coun-
tries where it is always warm and where the women are
fragrant as the flowers — et cetera, et cetera . . ."he
added, rising and taking leave of me with a pleasant
If I had not been afraid of humiliating myself before
so vast an assemblage, I should gladly have fallen at
the feet of this generous player to thank him for his
84 POEMS IN PROSE
unheard of munificence. But little by little, after I had
left him, incurable distrust reentered my breast; I dared
no longer believe in such prodigious good fortune, and,
on going to bed, still saying my prayers through silly
force of habit, I repeated in semi-slumber: "My God!
Lord, my God! Let it be that the Devil keep his
To Edward Manet
Illusions, my friend told me, are perhaps as number-
less as the relations of men with one another, or of men
to things. And when the illusion disappears, that is,
when we see the being or the fact as it exists outside
of us, we undergo a strange feeling, a complex half of
regret for the vanished phantom, half of agreeable sur-
prise before the novelty, before the real fact. If one
phenomenon exists that is trite, evident, always the
same, concerning the nature of Vv^hich it is impossible to
be deceived, it is maternal love. It is as difficult to
imagine a mother without maternal love as a light with-
out heat; is it not then perfectly legitimate to attribute
to maternal love all the words and actions of a mother,
relating to her child? None the less hear this little story,
in which I was singularly mystified by the most natural
"My profession of painter drives me to regard atten-
tively the visages, the physiognomies, which present
themselves on my way, and you know what joy we derive
from this faculty which renders life more vivid and sig-
nificant in our eyes than for other men. In the secluded
section where I live, and where great grassy spaces still
separate the buildings, I often observed a child whose
POEMS IN PROSE 85
ardent and roguish countenance, more than all the rest,
won me straightway. He posed for me more than once,
and I transformed him, now into a little gypsy, now into
an angel, now into mythological Love. I made him
bear the violin of the vagabond, the Crown of Thorns
and the Nails of the Passion, and the Torch of Eros.
At length, I took so lively a pleasure in all the drollery
of the youngster, that one day I begged his parents,
poor folk, to be kind enough to yield him to me, promis-
ing to clothe him well, to give him money and not to
impose on him any task beyond cleaning my brushes and
running my errands. The child, with his face washed,
became charming, and the life he led with me seemed a
paradise, compared to that he had undergone in the
parental hovel. Only I must say that the little fellow as-
tonished me at times by singular spells of precocious sad-
ness, and that he soon manifested an immoderate taste
for sugar and for liqueurs; so much so that one day when
I found that, despite my numerous warnings, he had
again been doing some pilfering of that sort, I threat-
ened to send him back to his parents. Then I went out,
and my business kept me away for quite some time.
"What was my surprise and horror when, reentering
the house, the first object that met my eyes was my little
fellow, the frolicsome companion of my life, hanging from
the panel of the closet! His feet almost touched the
floor; a chair, which he had doubtless thrust back with
his foot, was overturned beside him; his head was bent
convulsively over one shoulder; his bloated face, and his
eyes, quite wide open with a fearful fixity, gave at first
the illusion of life. To take him down was not so easy
a business as you might think. He was already quite
stiff, and I had an inexplicable repugnance to letting
him fall heavily to the floor. It was necessary to bear
his whole weight on one arm, and, with the free hand, to
86 POEMS IN PROSE
cut the rope. But that accomplished, all was not yet
done; the little monster had made use of a very slender
twine which had entered deep into his flesh, and I must
now, with delicate scissors, seek the cord between the two
cushions of the swelling, to disengage the neck.
"I have neglected to tell you that I called vigorously
for help; but all my neighbors refused to come to my
assistance, faithful in that to the habits of civilized man,
who never wishes, I know not why, to mix in the affairs
of one that has been hanged. Finally a physician came,
who said that the child had been dead several hours.
When, later, we had to disrobe him for burial, the cadav-
erous rigidity was such that, despairing of bending his
limbs, we had to tear and cut the garments to remove
"The commissioner, to whom, naturally, I had to an-
nounce the casualty, looked at me askew and said to
me: 'Here's something suspicious,' moved doubtless by
an inveterate desire and a professional habit of fright-
ening, at all events, the innocent as well as the guilty.
"There remained a supreme task to perform, the
thought of which alone gave me a terrible anguish: I
had to notify the parents. My feet refused to guide me
to them. Finally, I had the courage. But, to rriy great
astonishment, the mother was unmoved, not a tear oozed
from the corner of her eye. I attributed that strange-
ness to the very horror she must feel, and I recalled
the well-known maxim: 'The most terrible sorrows are
silent ones.' As to the father, he contented himself
with saying with an air half brutalized, half pensive:
'After all, it is perhaps for the best; he would always
have come to a bad end!'
"However, the body was stretched out on my couch,
and, assisted by a servant, I was busying myself with
the final preparations, when the mother entered my
POEMS IN PROSE 87
studio. She wished, she said, to see the body of her
son. I could not, in truth, deny her the intoxication of
her grief and refuse her that supreme and somber con-
solation. Then she begged me to show her the place
where her little one had hanged himself. *0h no, mad-
am,' I answered, 'that would be bad for you.' And
as my eyes turned involuntarily toward the fatal cup-
board, I perceived, with disgust mingled with horror and
wrath, that the nail had remained driven in the casing,
with a long rope-end still hanging. I leapt rapidly to
snatch away the last traces 6i the misfortune, and as I
was going to hurl them out through the open window,
the poor woman seized m.y arm and said in an irresist-
ible tone: 'Oh! sir! leave that for me! I beg you!
1 beseech you.' Her despair had doubtless become, it
seemed to me, so frantic that she was now overcome with
tenderness toward that which had served her son aa the
instrument of death, and she wished to preserve it as
a dear and horrible relic. — ^And she took possession of
the nail and of the twine.
"At last! At last! all was accomplished. There re-
mained only to set myself back at work, even more stren-
uously than usual, to drive out gradually the little corpse
that haunted the recesses of my brain, the phantom of
which wore me out with its great fixed eyes. But the
next day I received a bundle of letters: some from lodg-
ers in the house, several others from neighboring houses ;
one from the first floor, another from the second, an-
other froni the third, and so throughout! some in semi-
humorous style, as though seeking to disguise beneath an
apparent jocularity the sincerity of the request; others,
grossly shameless and without spelling; but all tending
to the same goal, namely, to securing from me a bit
of the fatal and beatific rope. Among the signers were,
I must say, more women than men; but not all, I assure
88 POEMS IN PROSE
you, belonged to the lowest class. I have kept the let-
''And then, suddenly, a light glowed in my brain, and I
understood why the mother was so very anxious to
wrest the twine from me, and by what traffic she meant
to be consoled."
In a beautiful garden where the rays of the autumnal
sun seemed to linger with delight, under a sky already
greenish, in which golden clouds floated like voyaging
continents, four fine children, four boys, doubtless tired
of playing, were chatting away.
One said: "Yesterday I was taken to the theatre. In
great, sad palaces, where in the background spread the
sea and the sky, men and women, also serious and sad,
but much more beautiful and much better dressed than
any we see about, were talking with musical voices. They
threatened one another, they entreated, they were dis-
consolate, and often they rested a hand on a dagger
sunk within the sash. Ah! that is beautiful indeed!
The women are much more beautiful and much greater
than those that come to the house to visit us, and al-
though with their great hollow eyes and their fiery
cheeks they have a terrible look, you can not help lov-
ing them. You are afraid, you want to cry, and still
you are content. . . . And then, what is stranger still,
it all makes you want to be dressed the same, to say
and to do the same things, to speak with the same
voice. . . ."
One of the four children, who for several moments had
no longer been listening to his comrade's talk, and had
been watching with surprising fixity some point or other
in the sky, said all at once: "Look, look down there!
POEMS IN PROSE 89
Do you see Him? He is sitting on that little isolated
cloud, that little fiery cloud, which is moving slowly.
He too, they say, He watches us."
"Who? Who?" asked the others.
"God!" he answered, with the accent of perfect con-
viction. — "Ah! He is already quite far away; by and
by you will not be able to see Him. Doubtless He is
traveling to visit every land. Look, He is going to pass
in back of that line of trees near the horizon . . . , and
now He is going down behind the steeple. ... Ah! you
can't see Him any longer!" And the child remained for
some time turned in the same direction, fixing on the line
which separates earth from the sky eyes in which burned
an inexpressible glow of ecstasy and regret.
"He is a fool, that one, with his good God, whom he
alone can see!" then said the third, whose whole person
was marked with a singular vivacity and life. "/ am
going to tell you how something happened to me which
has never happened to you, and which is a little more
interesting than your theatre and your clouds . . .
Several days ago my parents took me on a trip with
them, and as the inn where we stopped didn't have
enough beds for all of us, it was decided that I should
sleep in the same bed as my nursery maid." He drew
his comrades quite close and spoke in a lower tone.
"That was a strange performance, now! not to sleep
alone, and to be in bed with your maid, in the dark. As
I couldn't sleep, I amused myself, while she was sleeping,
by passing my hand over her arms, her neck, and her
shoulders. She has a much thicker neck and arm than
all other women, and her skin is so soft, so soft, that
you might call it note-paper or silver paper. I liked it
so much that I should have kept on for a long time, if I
hadn't been afraid, afraid at first of waking her, and
then still afraid of I don't know what. Then I buried
90 POEMS IN PROSE
my head in the hair which lay down her back, thick as
a mane, and it smelled just as good, I assure you, as
the flowers in the garden, right now. Try, when you can,
to do as much, and you will see!"
The young author of this prodigious revelation, in
telling his story, had his eyes wide open in a sort of
stupefaction at what he still felt, and the rays of the
setting sun, slipping across the sandy locks of his ruffled
hair, illumined it like a sulphurous aureole of passion.
It was easy to guess that this youngster would not lose
his life seeking Divinity in the clouds, and that he would
frequently discover it elsewhere.
At last the fourth spoke: "You know that I seldom
find amusment at home. I am never taken to a play;
my tutor is too stingy; God doesn't bother about me and
my ennui, and I haven't a pretty nurse to fondle me.
It has often seemed to me that I should just like to go
forever straight ahead, without knowing where, without
any one's being worried, always to see new lands. I am
never well off anywhere, and I always think I shall be
better somewhere else. Oh well! I saw, at the last fair
at the nearby village, three men who lived as I should
like to. You paid no attention to them, you others.
They were large, almost black, and very proud, al-
though in rags, looking as though they had need of no
one. Their great gloomy eyes became quite brilliant
while they played their music; a music so astonishing
that it made you want now to dance, now to cry, or to
do both together, and it would almost make you go mad
if you listened too long. One, drawing his bow across
his violin, seemed to be whispering sorrow; another,
making his hammer skip over the keys of a little piano
hung by a strap about his neck, appeared to be mocking
the plaint of his neighbor; while from time to time the
third clashed his cymbals with extraordinary violence.
POEMS IN PROSE 91
They were so pleased with themselves that they went on
playing their wild music even after the crowd had gone
away. Finally they gathered together their sous, piled
their luggage on their back, and left. I wanted to know
where they lived, and I followed them from afar, right
to the edge of the forest, and only then, I understood
that they lived nowhere.
"Then one said: 'Must we pitch the tent?'
"'Goodness! No!' answered the other. 'It's such a
"The third spoke, while figuring up the collection:
'These folks do not appreciate music, and their wives
dance like bears. Fortunately, within a month we shall
be in Austria, where we shall find more amiable folk.'
" 'Perhaps we'd do better to go toward Spain, for the
season is forward; let us flee before the rains, and mois-
ten nothing but our gullets,' said one of the others.
"I remember everything, as you see. Then each one
drank a cup of brandy and went to sleep, with his
forehead toward the stars. At first I wanted to beg them
to take me along with them and to teach me to play their
instruments; but I didn't dare, doubtless because it is al-
ways very difficult to come to a decision about any-
thing, and also because I was afraid of being recaptured
before we were out of France."
The slightly interested air of the three other com-
rades made me realize that this fellow was already
misunderstood. I looked at him closely; there was in
in his eye and on his brow that indescribable fatal pre-
cocity which generally repells sympathy, and which, I
know not why, aroused my own to the point that for
a moment I had the queer notion that I might have a
brother unknown to me.
The sun had set. The solemn night was come. The
92 POEMS IN PROSE
children separated, each going in ignorance, according
to circumstance and chance, to reap his destiny, scan-
dalize his relatives, and gravitate toward glory or toward
She is quite ill-favored. None the less she is delight-
ful! Time and Love have scarred her with their claws,
and have cruelly taught her that every moment and
every kiss bears away youth and freshness.
She is indeed ugly; she is an ant, a spider, if you
insist, a very carcass; but she is, as well, a potion, a
magistral, an enchantment! in short, she is exquisite!
Time could not break the sparkling harmony of her
walk, nor the indestructible elegance of her stays. Love
has not changed the sweetness of her childlike breath;
Time has plucked nothing of her abundant mane, from
which is breathed in tawny perfumes all the devilish vital-
ity of Southern France: Nimes, Aix, Aries, Avignon, Nar-
bonne, Toulouse, towns blessed by the sun, amorous and
Time and Love have vainly nibbled with sharp teeth;
they have in no way lessened the vague but eternal
charm of her hoyden breast.
Worn perhaps, but not wearied, and always heroic,
she brings thoughts of those full-blooded horses w^hich
the eye of the true amateur will recognize, even hitched
to a hackney or to a heavy truck.
And then she is so sweet and so fervent! She loves as
one loves in the autumn; you would say that the ap-
proach of winter lights a new fire in her heart, and
the servility of her tenderness is never wearying.
POEMS IN PROSE 93
A FRIGHTFUL man enters, and looks at himself in
"Why do you look at yourself in the mirror, since you
can view yourself only with displeasure?"
The frightful man answers me: "Sir, in accordance
with the immortal principles pf '89, all men have equal
rights; therefore I have the right to behold myself; with
pleasure or displeasure, that concerns only my con-
In the name of common sense, I was surely right;
but, from a legal standpoint, he was not wrong.
A HARBOR is a charming abode for a soul weary of
the struggles of life. The amplitude of the *sky, the
mobile architecture of the clouds, the changing color-
ations of the sea, the scintillating of the beacon-lights,
form a prism marvellously adapted to entertain the eyes
without tiring them. The slender forms of the ships,
with their complicated rigging, to which the billows give
harmonious oscillations, serve to maintain the taste for
rhythm and for beauty. And, above all, there is a sort
of mysterious and aristocratic pleasure for him who no
longer has curiosity or ambition, in contemplating,
couched in the turret or leaning on the pier, all the move-
ments of those who depart and those who return, of
those who still have the strength to will, the desire to
travel or to acquire wealth.
94 POEMS IN PROSE
In a men's boudoir, that is, in a smoking room ad-
joining a fashionable brothel, four men were smoking
and drinking. They were not exactly either young or
old, either handsome or ugly; but, old or young, they
bore that unmistakable distinction of veterans of joy,
that indescribable something-or-other, that cold and scoff-
ing sadness that so clearly says: "We have lived force-
fully, and we seek what we can love and prize."
One of them drew the talk to the subject of women.
It would have been more philosophical not to have
spoken of them at all; but there are men of parts who,
after drinking, do not disdain commonplace conversa-
tions. One listens, then, to the one that speaks as to
the music of a dance.
"All men," said this one, "have passed through the
age of the Cherub: that is the period when, in default
of dryads, one embraces, without disgust, the trunks of
oaks. It is the first degree of love. At the second de-
gree, one begins to choose. To be able to deliberate is
already decadence. Then it is that one makes a decided
search for beauty. As for me, gentlemen, I take pride
in having long ago reached the climactic period of the
third degree, when beauty itself no longer suffices, unless
it be seasoned with perfume, with finery, et cetera. I
will even confess that I sometimes aspire, as to an un-
known happiness, to a certain fourth degree which is
marked by absolute calm. But, all through my life, ex-
cept at the Cherub age, I have been more sensible than
all others of the enervating folly, of the irritating medi-
ocrity, of women. What I like above all in animals is
POEMS IN PROSE 9^
their candor. Judge then how much I suffered at the
hands of my last mistress.
"She was a prince's bastard. Beautiful, that goes
without saying; otherwise, why should I have taken her?
But she spoiled that great quality by an unseemly, de-
formed ambition. She was a woman who wanted al-
ways to play the man. 'You're not a man! ' 'Of the two,
it is I who am the man!' Such were the unbearable re-
frains that came from her mouth when I wished to see
nothing but songs take wing.
"In regard to a book, a poem, an opera, for which I
let my admiration escape: 'So you think this is rather
powerful?' she would say at once; 'since when are you
a judge of power?' and she would argue on.
"One fine day she took to chemistry; so that between
her mouth and mine I found thenceforth a mask of glass.
V^ith all that, quite squeamish. If now and then I jostled
her with too amorous a ge:ture, she raved like a rav-
"How did it end?" asked one of the three others. "I
never knew you so patient."
"God," he replied, "found the remedy in the ill.
One day I found this Minerva, craving for ideal force,
alone with my servant, and in a situation which forced
me to retire discreetly, so as not to make them blush.
That evening, I dismissed them both, giving them the
arrears of their wages."
"As for me," continued the interrupter, "I have only
myself to complain of. Happiness came to dwell with
me, and I did not know her. Fate once granted me the
enjoyment of a woman who was indeed the sweetest, the
most submissive, the most devoted of creatures, and
always ready, and without enthusiasm. 'I am quite
willing, since it's agreeable to you.' That was her usual
response. You might give a bastinado to this wall or
96 POEMS IN PROSE
this couch and draw from it as many sighs as the most
infuriate transports of love would draw from the breast
of my mistress. After a year of life together, she con-
fessed to me that she had never known pleasure. I lost
taste in the unequal duel, and that incomparable girl
got married. Later I had a fancy to see her, and she
said, showing me six fine children: 'Well, my dear friend,
the wife is still as much a virgin as was your mistress.'
Nothing had changed. Sometimes I regret her ; I should
have married her."
The others burst into laughter, and a third spoke in
"Gentlemen, I have known joys which you have per-
haps neglected. I mean the comical in love, and a comi-
cal which does not bar admiration. I admired my last
mistress, I think, more than you could have loved or
hated yours. And every one admired her as much as I.
When we entered a restaurant, after a few minutes every
one forgot to eat in watching her. The barmaid and
the waiters themselves felt the contagious ecstasy so
far as to neglect their duties. In short, I lived for some
time face to face with a living phenomenon. She ate,
chewed, ground, devoured, swallowed up, but with the
lightest and most careless air imaginable. In this way
she kept me for a long time in ecstasy. She had a soft,
dreamy, English and romantic way of saying: *I am hun-
gry.' And she repeated these words day and night,
revealing the prettiest teeth in the world, which would
soften and enliven you together. — I could have made
my fortune exhibiting her at fairs, as a polyphagous
monster. I nourished her well, but none the less she
left me. ..."
"For a purveyor of provisions, undoubtedly?"
"Something of the sort, a kind of employee in the com-
missariat who, by some by-profit unknown to her, per-
POEMS IN PROSE 97
haps furnished the poor child with the rations of several
soldiers. At least, so I imagine."
"As for me," said the fourth, "I have endured grievous,
sufferings through the opposite of that with which we
usually reproach the female egoist. You are quite un-
justified, too happy mortals, in complaining of the im-
perfections of your mistresses!"
This was said in a very serious tone, by a man of pleas-
ant and sedate appearance, of an almost clerical coim-
tenance, unhappily lighted ,by clear grey eyes, those
eyes whose glances spoke: "I wish it!" or "It is neces-
sary!" or indeed "I never forgive!"
"If, nervous as I know you to be, you, G , sloth-
ful and trifling as you are, you two, K and J ,
if you had been matched with a certain woman I know,
either you would have fled, or you would have died.
I survived, as you see. Imagine a person incapable of
making an error, from feeling or from design; imagine
a provoking serenity of mind, a devotion without sham
and without parade, a softness without weakness, an
energy without violence. The story of my love is like
an endless voyage on a surface as pure and polished as
a mirror, dizzily monotonous, reflecting all my feelings
and my movements with the ironic exactness of my own
conscience, so that I could not allow myself an unrea-
sonable move or emotion without immediately beholding
the dumb reproach of my inseparable spectre. Love
seemed to me like a protectorate. How much nonsense
she stopped me from committing, which I regret not
having done! How m.any debts I paid despite myself!
She deprived me of all the benefits I could have reaped
from my personal folly. With a cold and impassable
rule, she barred all my caprices. To crown the horror,
she demanded no gratitude when the danger was passed.
How many times have I not held myself from leaping at
98 POEMS IN PROSE
her throat, crying: 'Be imperfect, wretch! so that I can
love you without uneasiness and wrath!' For several
years I wondered at her, my heart full of hate. Finally,
it was not I that died of it!"
"Ah!" said the others, "then she is dead?"
"Yes. Things could not go on like that. Love had
become an overwhelming nightmare to me. Victory or
death, as the Politics says, such was the alternative
which destiny imposed. One evening, in a wood . . .,
at the edge of a pond . . . , after a melancholy walk in
which her eyes reflected the gentleness of heaven, and
my heart was thrilling with hell ..."
"What do you mean?"
"It was inevitable. I had too great a sense of justice
to beat, to insult, or to dismiss an irreproachable servant.
But I had to reconcile that feeling to the horror which
that being inspired in me; rid myself of that being with-
out losing her respect. What would you want me to do
with her, since she was perfect?"
The three others looked at him with an uncertain and
somewhat stupefied gaze, as though feigning not to under-
stand and as though tacitly avowing that they did not
feel themselves capable of so rigorous an act, however
sufficiently accounted for in another.
Then they ordered fresh bottles, to kill time whose
life is so sturdy, and to speed life, whose movement is
SOUP AND THE CLOUDS
My well-beloved little madcap was dining with me,
and through the open window of the dining-room I was
POEMS IN PROSE 99
contemplating the moving architecture which God formed
from the vapors, the marvellous constructions of the im-
palpable. And I was saying to myself, in my reflection:
"All these phantasmagoria are almost as beautiful as the
eyes of my beautiful well-beloved, the little prodigious
madcap with green eyes."
And all at once I received a violent punch in the
back, and I heard a hoarse and charming voice, a voice
hysterical and husky as with brandy, which said to
me: "Are you going to eat your soup, s . . ., b . . . of
a dealer in clouds?"
THE LOSS OF A HALO
"Eh! What! You here, my dear? You, in a place of
ill! You, the drinker of quintessences! you, the eater
of ambrosia! Indeed, this is something surprising!"
"My dear, you know my dread of horses^ and carri-
ages. Just now, as I was crossing the boulevard, in
great haste, and as I was hopping about in the mud, in
the midst of that moving chaos where death arrives at a
gallop from all sides at once, my halo, in a sudden start,
slipped from my head into the mire of the macadam.
I did not have the courage to pick it up. I thought
it less disagreeable to lose my insignia than to have my
bones broken. And then, I reflected, it's an ill wind
that blowL no good. I can now go about incognito, per-
form base actions, and give myself over to debauchery,
like ordinary mortals. And here I am, quite like you,
as you see!"
"You ought at least have the halo advertised, or
asked for at the police."
"Heavens, no! I am quite well off here. You alone
have recognized me. Besides, dignity was boring. Then,
100 POEMS IN PROSE
too, I think with joy that some poor poet will pick it
up, and will impudently deck himself out. To make
some one happy, what joy! and especially a happy one
that makes me laugh! Think of X , or of Z 1
Oh! that would be comical!"
When I had reached the heart of the slums, under the
gaslights, I felt an arm which slid softly under mine,
and I heard a voice which whispered: ''You are a doctor,
I looked: it was a big girl, robust, slightly rouged, her
eyes wide open, her hair iioating in the wind with her
"No, I am not a doctor. Let me pass."
"Oh yes! you are a doctor. I can see it well. Come
to my house. You will be quite satisfied, I assure you.
I shall doubtless go to see you, but later, after the doc-
tor, goodness me! . . . Ha! Ha!" she exclaimed, still
clinging to my arm and bursting into laughter. "You
are a physician jokster. I have known several of that
I am passionately in love with mystery, because I al-
ways hope to unravel it. So I let myself be led by my
companion, or rather, by the unlooked-for enigma.
I omit description of the hovel; it can be found in
several well known old French poets. Only, detail un-
noticed by Regnier, two or three portraits of renowned
physicians were hung upon the wall.
How I was pampered! A great fire, warm wine, ci-
gars; and while offering me these fine things and lighting
a cigar for herself the comical creature said to me:
"Make yourself at home; be quite at ease. This will
POEMS IN PROSE loi
bring back the hospital and the happy days of your
youth ... Oh look! where did you win those white
hairs? You were not like that, not so long ago, when
you were interne at L . I remember it was you that
helped at the major operations. There was a man that
loved to cut, hew, lop off! It was you that handed him
the instruments, the threads and the sponges. . . .
And how proudly, the operation performed, he used
to say, looking at his watch, 'Five minutes, gentle-
men!' Oh! I, I go everywhere! I know these people
A few moments later, in more familiar tone, harping on
the same theme, she said: "You are a doctor, aren't you,
That unintelligible refrain brought me to my feeL
"No!" I cried, furious.
"No! No! unless it be to cut off your head!"
"Wait," she continued, "you shall see."
And she drew from a closet a file of papers which
was nothing else than the collection of illustrious doctors
of the day, lithographed by Maurin, that was displayed
for several years on the Quay Voltaire.
"Look, do you recognize this one?"
"Yes, it's X . The name is at the bottom, be-
sides; but I know him personally."
"I should say so! Look! Here is Z , the one who
said in "his course, speaking of X , 'this monster,
bearing on his face the blackness of his soul!' all be-
cause the other did not agree with him in a certain case!
How they laughed at that in the school, at the time!
Do you remember? . . . Look! here is K , who de-
nounced to the authorities the rebels he was caring for
at his hospital. That was at the time of the riots. How
is it possible so handsome a man can have so little heart?
102 POEMS IN PROSE
. . . This one is W , a famous Englishman; I cap-
tured him on his visit to Paris. He looks like a girl,
And as I touched a little tied-up parcel, also on the
table: "Wait a while," she said, "In this one are the
internes; and that package has the dressers."
And she spread out, fanlike, a mass of photographs,
picturing much younger faces.
"When we see each other again, you will give me your
portrait, won't you, deary?"
"But," I said to her, I also following my fixed idea,
"what makes you think I am a doctor?"
"It's because you are so amiable and good to women!"
"Peculiar logic," I said to myself.
"Oh! I am hardly ever mistaken; I have known quite
a number. I love them so much that, even though I am
not sick, I sometimes go to see them, only to see them.
There are some who say coldly: 'You are not sick at all!'
But there are others who understand me, because I ogle
"And when they do not understand?"
"Well, since I have disturbed them fruitlessly, I leave
ten francs on the mantel. . . . They are so good and
so kind, these folk! I discovered a little interne at the
Piete, pretty as an angel, and so refined! and a worker,
the poor boy! His comrades told me he didn't have a
sou, because his parents were poor folks who couldn't
send him anything. That gave me confidence. After all, I
am a fairly good looking woman, although not too young.
I said to him: 'Come to see me, come to see me often.
With me you needn't bother: I have no need of money.'
But you know that I made him understand that in a host
of ways, I didn't tell it to him bluntly; I was so afraid
of humiliating him, the dear child ! ... Oh well ! would
you believe that I had a queer fancy I didn't dare to tell
POEMS IN PROSE 105
him? ... I should have liked him to come to see me
with Jiis instrument case and his apron, even with a
little blood on it."
She said this in the most candid manner, as a feel-
ing man would say to an actress that he loved: "I want
to see you dressed in the costume you wore in this famous
role that you created . . . . "
I, persisting, continued: "Can you remember the time
and the occasion when this so special passion was born
I made her understand with difficulty; finally I suc-
ceeded. But then she answered in a very sad tone, and
even, as well as I can recall, lowering her eyes: "I don't
know . . ., I can't remember."
What oddities can be found in a great city, if one
knows how to walk about and watch. Life swarms with
innocent monsters, —
Lord, my God! You, the Creator, You the Master,
You who have created Law and Liberty; You, the Sov-
ereign that doth not interfere; You, the Judge that par-
doneth; You who are full of motives and causes, and
who perhaps have planted a taste for horror in my mind
in order to convert my soul, as the recovery after a
sword; Lord, have pity, have pity on madmen and mad
women! O Creator, can monsters exist in the eyes of
Him who alone knows why they exist, how they are
made, and how they need not have been made?
LET US FLAY THE POOR
For a fortnight I was confined to my room, and I
surrounded myself with the books of the day (sixteen or
seventeen years ago) ; I mean those volumes which treat
of the art of making people happy, wise and rich, in
104 POEMS IN PROSE
twenty-four hours. I had thus digested — swallowed, I
should say — all the lucubrations of all those master-
builders of the public weal, of those who advise all the
poor to enslave themselves, and of those who persuade
them they are all dethroned kings. There is, then,
naught surprising in the fact that I was in a state of
mind bordering on intoxication or stupidity.
It seemed to me merely that I felt, imprisoned in the
depths of my intelligence, the obscure germ of an idea
superior to all the old wives' formulae the cyclopedia of
which I had just run through. But it was only the
thought of a thought, a something infinitely vague.
And I went forth with a great thirst, for the impas-
sioned taste of poor reading engenders a proportionate
need of open air and of refreshment.
As I was about to enter a tavern, a beggar held out
his hat to me, with one of those unforgettable glances
that would tumble down thrones, if the mental moved
the material, and if a mesmerist's glance could ripen
At the same time, I heard a voice which whispered
at my ear, a voice that I knew well: it was that of a
good angel, or a good Demon, who is with me every-
where. Since Socrates had his good Demon, why may
not I have my good Angel, and why may not I have the
'honor, like Socrates, of securing my brevet in folly,
signed by the subtle Lelut and the well-advised Baillar-
There is this difference between the Demon of Soc-
rates and my own, that his manifested itself only to
warn, to forbid, to prevent, and that mine deigns to
counsel, suggest, persuade. Poor Socrates had only a
Demon prohibitor; mine is a great affirmator, mine is a
Demon of action, or a Demon of combat.
* Famous Parisian alienists of the time.
POEMS IN PROSE 105
Now, his voice whispered to me thus: "He alone is the
equal of another, that proves it; and he alone is worthy
of liberty, that can secure it."
Immediately I leapt upon the beggar. With one
punch, I stopped an eye, which became in a moment
large as a ball. I broke one of my nails shattering two
of his teeth, and as I did not feel strong enough, having
been born delicate and having had but little practice in
boxing, to beat the old fellow to death right away, I
grasped him by one hand by the collar of his coat, and
with the other I throttled him, and I set to work dash-
ing his head against a wall. I must avow that I had first
inspected the surroundings in a glance, and had made
sure that in that deserted suburb I should be long
enough out of the reach of a policeman.
Having then, with a kick in the back, hard enough to
break his shoulderblade, felled the enfeebled sexage-
narian, I seized a great branch of a tree which lay along
the ground, and I beat him with the determined energy
of cooks trying to make a beefsteak tender.
All at once, — O miracle! O joy of the philosopher
who proves the excellence of his theory! — I saw that
antiqve carcass turn about, straighten up with an energy
I should never have suspected in so strangely disordered
a madv'ne — and, with a glance of hate that seemed to
me gr-d omen, the decrepit ruffian hurled himself upon
me, blackened both my eyes, broke four teeth, and with
the same branch beat me stiff as a jelly. By my ener-
getic medication, I had restored to him pride and life.
Then I made any number of signs to him to make
him understand that I considered the matter closed, and,
rising with the satisfaction of a philosopher of the Porch,
I said to him: "Sir, you are- my equal/ Kindly do me
the honor of sharing my purse; and remember, if you
are truly philanthropic, that you must apply to all your
io6 POEMS IN PROSE
colleagues, when they ask for alms, the theory that I
have had the sorrow of trying on your back."
Hq swore to me that he understood my theory, and
that he would obey my counsels.
To Mr. Joseph Stevens
I HAVE nearer, even before the young writers of my
century, been ashamed of my admiration for Buffon;
but to-day it is not the spirit of that painter of lofty
nature that I would call to my assistance. No.
Much more willingly I call to Sterne, and I say to
him: "Descend from heaven, or climb to me from the
Elysian Fields, to inspire me in behalf of good dogs,
of poor dogs, with a song worthy of thee, sentimental
farceur, farceur incomparable. Come back astraddle that-
famous ass which will always accompany you in the
memory of the future; and especially do not let that
ass forget to carry, delicately hung between his lips,
his immortal macaroons."
Away with the academic muse! I have no business
with that old prude. I invoke the familiar m.vre, the
citizen, the boon companion, to aid me to sing tl '^ good
dogs, the poor dogs, the dirty dogs, those whom every
one drives away, pestiferous and lousy, except the poor,
whose associates they are, and the poet, who sees them
with fraternal eye.
Fie upon the foppish dog, upon the coxcomb quad-
ruped, Dane, King Charles, pugdog or lapdog, so en-
amoured of himself that he darts inconsiderately be-
tween the legs or on the knees of the visitor, as if he
were certain of pleasing, wild as a youngster, foolish as
POEMS IN PROSE 107
a flirt, often surly and insolent as a servant! Fie es-
pecially upon those four-pawed serpents, idle and shiv-
ering, that are called greyhounds, and that do not har-
bor in their pointed muzzle enough scent to follow the
track of a friend, nor in their flattened head enough in-
telligence to play at dominoes!
To the kennel with all these plaguy parasites!
Let them slink to the kennel stuffed and sulky! I
sing the dirty dog, the poor dog, the homeless dog, the
stroller dog, the dog buffoon, the dog whose instinct, like
that of the poor, the gypsy and the mountebank, is mar-
vellously sharpened by necessity, that excellent mother,
that true patron of intelligence !
I sing the distressful dogs, be they those that wander,
alone, in the winding gullies of the great cities or those
who have said to the forsaken man, with blinking spir-
itual eyes: "Take me with you, and of two miseries we
shall make a sort of joy!"
"Whither go the dogs?" Nestor Roquepelan once said
in an immortal leaflet which he has doubtless forgotten,
and which I alone, and perhaps Saint-Beuve, recall to-
Where do the dogs go, you ask, heedless men? They
go about their business.
Business engagements, affairs of love. Through the
fog, through the snow, through the mire, under the bit-
ing dogstar, under the streaming rain, they come, they
go, they hurry, they move along under carriages, ex-
cited by fleas, by passion, by duty or by need. Like us,
they have risen bright and early, and they seek their
livelihood or run to their pleasure.
There are some who sleep in a ruin in the suburbs
and who come every day at a stated hour, to beg alms
at the door of a Palais- Royal cook; others who run in
troops, for more than five leagues, to partake of the
io8 POEMS IN PROSE
repast which has been prepared for them through the
charity of certain sexagenarian maids, whose unoccupied
hearts are given over to beasts, since imbecile man wants
them no more; others who, like runaway negroes, fran-
tic with love, leave their province on certain days, to
come to the city and romp for an hour with a handsome
bitch, a little careless in her toilet, but proud and thank-
And they are all very precise, without notebooks, with-
out memoranda, without portfolios.
Do you know slothful Belgium, and have you, like me,
admired all those vigorous dogs hitched to the cart of
the butcher, of the milkmaid, of the baker, who give evi-
dence in their triumphant barks, of the proud pleasure
they feel in rivalling the horse?
And here are two that belong to a still more civilized
order! Permit me to introduce you into the room of an
absent mountebank. A bed, of painted wood, without
curtains, with dragging covers stained with bugs; two
cane chairs, a cast-iron stove, one or two disordered
musical instruments. Oh, what sad furniture! But
look, I pray you, at these two intelligent personages, clad
in garments at once sumptuous and frayed, hooded like
troubadours or soldiers, who are guarding, with the close
watch of a sorcerer, the nameless something which sim-
mers on the lighted stove, and from the center of which a
long spoon stands forth, planted as one of those aerial
masts which announce that the masonry is complete.
Is it not just that such zealous comedians should not
set out without having well lined their stomachs with a
strong, sound soup? And will you not forgive a littles
sensuality in these poor devils who all day have to face
the indifference of the public and the injustice of a di-
rector who deems himself the whole show and who alone
eats more soup than four actors?
POEMS IN PROSE 109
How often have I contemplated, touched and smiling,
all these four-footed philosophers, compliant, submissive
or devoted slaves, whom the republican dictionary might
well call ''fellows," * if the republic, too busied with the
happiness of men, had time to respect the honor of dogs !
And how many times have I thought that perhaps
there is somewhere (who knows, after all?), to reward so
much courage, so much of patience and of labor, a special
paradise for good dogs, for poor dogs, for dirty and af-
flicted dogs. Swedenborg affirms that there is one for
the Turks and one for the Dutchmen !
The shepherds of Virgil and of Theocritus expected, as
prize for their alternate songs, a good cheese, a flute
from the best maker, or a she-goat with swelling udders.
The poet who has sung the good dogs has received for
reward a fine vest, of a color both faded and rich, which
brings thoughts of the autumn suns, of the beauty of
matured women and of the summers of Saint-Martin,
None of those who were present in the tavern of Rue
Villa-Hermosa will forget with what petulance the
painter was despoiled of his vest for the poet, so well had
he understood that it is good and seemly to sing of poor
Thus a magnificent Italian tyrant, in the good old
days, offered the divine Aretine a dagger rich with jew-
els, or a courtly gown, in exchange for a precious son-
net or a rare satiric poem.
And whenever the poet dons the painter's vest, he is
forced to think of the good dogs, of the dog philosophers,
of the summers of Saint-Martin and of the beauty of
* "Officieux" was the term adopted by the Republic, to re-
place "domestique" and "valet," and to indicate the equality
of all — even master and man.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
Translated by F. P. Stxjeim
EVERY MAN HIS CHIM^ERA
Beneath a broad grey sky, upon a vast and dusty
plain devoid of grass, and where not even a nettle or a
thistle was to be seen, I met several men who walked
bowed down to the ground.
Each one carried upon his back an enormous Chimaera
as heavy as a sack of flour or coal, or as the equipment of
a Roman foot-soldier.
But the monstrous beast was not a dead weight, rather
she enveloped and oppressed the men with her powerful
and elastic muscles, and clawed with her two vast talons
at the breast of her mount. Her fabulous head reposed
upon the brow of the man like one of those horrible
casques by which ancient warriors hoped to add to the
terrors of the enemy.
I questioned one of the men, asking him why they
went so. He replied that he knew nothing, neither he
nor the others, but that evidently they went somewhere,
since they were urged on by an unconquerable desire to
Very curiously, none of the wayfarers seemed to be
irritated by the ferocious beast hanging at his neck and
cleaving to his back: one had said that he considered it
as a part of himself. These grave and weary faces bore
witness to no despair. Beneath the splenetic cupola of
the heavens, their feet trudging through the dust of an
earth as desolate as the sky, they journeyed onwards
with the resigned faces of men condemned to hope for
ever. So the train passed me and faded intO' the atmos-
phere of the horizon at the place where the planet un-
veils herself to the curiosity of the human eye.
During several moments I obstinately endeavoured to
comprehend this mystery; but irresistible Indifference
114 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
soon threw herself upon me, nor was I more heavily
dejected thereby than they by their crushing Chimaeras.
VENUS AND THE FOOL
How admirable the day! The vast park swoons be-
neath the burning eye of the sun, as youth beneath the
lordship of love.
There is no rumour of the universal ecstasy of all
things. The waters themselves are as though drifting
into sleep. Very different from the festivals of human-
ity, here is a silent revel.
It seems as though an ever-waning light makes all
objects glimmer more and more, as though the excited
fiowers bum with a desire to rival the blue of the sky
by the vividness of their colours; as though the heat,
making perfumes visible, drives them in vapour towards
Yet, in the midst of this universal joy, I have perceived
one afflicted thing.
At the feet of a colossal Venus, one of those motley
fools, those willing clowns whose business it is to bring
laughter upon kings when weariness or remorse pos-
sesses them, lies wrapped in his gaudy and ridiculous
garments, coiffed with his cap and bells, huddled against
the pedestal, and raises towards the goddess his eyes
filled with tears.
And his eyes say: "I am the last and most alone of all
mortals, inferior to the meanest of animals in that I am
denied either love or friendship. Yet I am made, even
I, for the understanding and enjoyment of immortal
Beauty. O Goddess, have pity upon my sadness and my
The implacable Venus gazed into I know not what
distances with her marble eyes.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 115
A HUNDRED times already the sun had leaped, radi-
ant or saddened, from the immense cup of the sea whose
rim could scarcely be seen ; a hundred times it had again
sunk, glittering or morose, into its mighty bath of twi-
light. For many days we had contemplated the other
side of the firmament, and deciphered the celestial alpha-
bet of the antipodes. And e^ch of the passengers sighed
and complained. One had said that the approach of
land only exasperated their sufferings. "When, then,"
they said, "shall we cease to sleep a sleep broken by the
surge, troubled by a wind that snores louder than we?
When shall we be able to eat at an unmoving table?"
There were those who thought of their own firesides,
who regretted their sullen, faithless wives, and their
noisy progeny. All so doted upon the image of the
absent land, that I believe they would have eaten grass
with as much enthusiasm as the beasts.
At length a coast was signalled, and on approaching
we saw a magnificent and dazzling land. It seemed as
though the music of life flowed therefrom in a vague
murmur; and the banks, rich with all kinds of growths,
breathed, for leagues around, a delicious odour of flowers
Each one therefore was joyful; his evil humour left
him. Quarrels were forgotten, reciprocal wrongs for-
given, the thought of duels was blotted out of the mem-
ory, and rancour fled away like smoke.
I alone was sad, inconceivably sad. Like a priest
from whom one has torn his divinity, I could not, with-
out heartbreaking bitterness, leave this so monstrously
seductive ocean, this sea so infinitely various in its ter-
rifying simplicity, which seemed to contain in itself and
ii6 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
represent by its joys, and attractions, and angers, and
smiles, the moods and agonies and ecstasies of all souls
that have lived, that live, and that shall yet live.
In saying good-bye to this incomparable beauty I felt
as though I had been smitten to death; and that is why
when each of my companions said: "At last!" I could
only cry ^^ Already 1'*
Here meanwhile was the land, the land with its noises,
its passions, its commodities, its festivals: a land rich
and magnificent, full of promises, that sent to us a mys-
terious perfume of rose and musk, and from whence the
music of life flowed in an amorous murmuring.
THE DOUBLE CHAMBER
A CHAMBER that is like a reverie; a chamber truly
spiritual, where the stagnant atmosphere is lightly
touched with rose and blue.
There the soul bathes itself in indolence made odorous
with regret and desire. There is some sense of the twi-
light, of things tinged with blue and rose: a dream of
delight during an eclipse. The shape of the furniture is
elongated, low, languishing; one would think it endowed
with the somnambulistic vitality of plants and minerals.
The tapestries speak an inarticulate language, like the
flowers, the skies, the dropping suns.
There are no artistic abominations upon the walls.
Compared with the pure dream, with an impression un-
analyzed, definite art, positive art, is a blasphemy. Here
all has the sufficing lucidity and the delicious obscurity
of music, ,
An infinitesimal odour of the most exquisite choice,
mingled with a floating humidity, swims in this atmos-
phere where the drowsing spirit is lulled by the sensa-
tions one feels in a hothouse.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 117
The abundant muslin flows before the windows and
the couch, and spreads out in snowy cascades. Upon
the couch lies the Idol, ruler of my dreams. But why is
she here? — who has brought her? — what magical power
has installed her upon this throne of delight and reverie?
What matter — she is there; and I recognize her.
These indeed are the eyes whose flame pierces the
twilight; the subtle and terrible mirrors that I recognize
by their horrifying malice. They attract, they dominate,
they devour the sight of whomsoever is imprudent
enough to look at them. I have often studied them;
these Black Stars that compel curiosity and admiration.
To what benevolent demon, then, do I owe being
thus surrounded with mystery, with silence, with peace,
and sweet odours? O beatitude! the thing we name
life, even in its most fortunate amplitude, has nothing in
common with this supreme life with which I am now
acquainted, which I taste minute by minute, second by
Not so! Minutes are no more; seconds are no more.
Time has vanished, and Eternity reigns — an Eternity of
A heavy and terrible knocking reverberates upon the
door, and, as in a hellish dream, it seems to me as though
I had received a blow from a mattock.
Then a Spectre enters: it is an usher who comes to
torture me in the name of the Law; an infamous concu-
bine who. comes to cry misery and to add the trivialities
of her life to the sorrow of mine ; or it may be the errand-
boy of an editor who comes to implore the remainder of
The Chamber of paradise, the Idol, the ruler of
dreams, the Sylphide, as the great Rene said; all this
magic has vanished at the brutal knocking of the Spectre.
Horror; I remember, I remember! Yes, this kennel,
ii8 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
this habitation of eternal weariness, is indeed my own.
There is my senseless furniture, dusty and tattered;
the dirty fireplace without a flame or an ember; the sad
windows where the raindrops have traced runnels in the
dust; the manuscripts, erased or unfinished; the alma-
nac with the sinister days marked off with a pencil!
And this perfume of another world, whereof I intoxi-
cated myself with a so perfected sensitiveness; alas, Its
place is taken by an odour of stale tobacco smoke,
mingled with I know not what nauseating mustiness.
Now one breathes here the rankness of desolation.
In this narrow world, narrow and yet full of disgust,
a single familiar object smiles at me: the phial of lauda-
num: old and terrible love; like all loves, alas! fruitful
in caresses and treacheries.
Yes, Time has reappeared; Time reigns a monarch
now; and with the hideous Ancient has returned all his
demoniacal following of Memories, Regrets, Tremors,
Fears, Dolours, Nightmares, and twittering nerves.
I assure you that the seconds are strongly and sol-
emnly accentuated now; and each, as it drips from the
pendulum, says: ''I am Life: intolerable, implacable
There is not a second in mortal life whose mission it
is to bear good news: the good news that brings the
inexplicable tear to the eye.
Yes, Time reigns; Time has regained his brutal mas-
tery. And he goads me, as though I were a steer,
with his double goad: "Whoa, thou fool! Sweat, then,
thou slave! Live on, thou damned!"
AT ONE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING
Alone at last! Nothing is to be heard but the rattle
of a few tardy and tired-out cabs. There will be silence
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 119
now, if not repose, for several hours at least. At last the
tyranny of the human face has disappeared — I shall
not suffer except alone. At last it is permitted me to
refresh myself in a bath of shadows. But first a double
turn of the key in the lock. It seems to me that this turn
of the key will deepen my solitude and strengthen the
barriers which actually separate me from the world.
A horrible life and a horrible city! Let us run over
the events of the day. I have seen several literary men;
one of them wished to know if he could get to Russia by
land (he seemed to have an idea that Russia was an
island) ; I have disputed generously enough with the edi-
tor of a review, who to each objection replied: "We take
the part of respectable people," which implies that every
other paper but his own is edited by a knave; I have
saluted some twenty people, fifteen of them unknown to
me; and shaken hands with a like number, without having
taken the precaution of first buying gloves; I have been
driven to kill* time, during a shower, with a mountebank,
who wanted me to design for^her a costume as Venusta;
I have made my bow to a theatre manager, who said:
"You will do well, perhaps, to interview Z; he is the
heaviest, foolishest, and most celebrated of all my au-
thors; with him perhaps you will be able to come to
something. See him, and then we'll see." I have boasted
(why?) of several villainous deeds I never committed,
and indignantly denied certain shameful things I accom-
plished with joy, certain misdeeds of fanfaronade, crimes
of human respect; I have refused an easy favour to a
friend and given a written recommendation to a perfect
fool. Heavens! it's well ended.
Discontented with myself and with everything and
everybody else, I should be glad enough to redeem my-
self and regain my self-respect in the silence and solitude.
Souls of those whom I have loved, whom I have sung,
120 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
fortify me; sustain me; drive away the lies and the cor-
rupting vapours of this worid ; and Thou, Lord my God,
accord me so much grace as shall produce some beautiful
verse to prove to myself that I am not the last of men,
that I am not inferior to those I despise.
THE CONFITEOR OF THE ARTIST
How penetrating is the end of an autumn day! Ah,
yes, penetrating enough to be painful even ; for there are
certain delicious sensations whose vagueness does not
prevent them from being intense; and none more keen
than the perception of the Infinite. He has a great de-
light who drowns his gaze in the immensity of sky and
sea. Solitude, silence, the incomparable chastity of the
azure — a little sail trembling upon the horizon, by its
very littleness and isolation imitating my irremediable
existence — the melodious monotone of the surge — all
these things thinking through me and I through them
(for in the grandeur of the reverie the Ego is swiftly
lost) ; they think, I say, but musically and picturesquely,
without quibbles, without syllogisms, without deductions.
These thoughts, as they arise in me or spring forth
from external objects, soon become always too intense.
The energy working within pleasure creates an uneasi-
ness, a positive suffering. My nerves are too tense to
give other than clamouring and dolorous vibrations.
And now the profundity of the sky dismays me; its
limpidity exasperates me. The insensibility of the sea,
the immutability of the spectacle, revolt me. Ah, must
one eternally suffer, for ever be a fugitive from Beauty?
Nature, pitiless enchantress, ever-victorious rival, leave
me! Tempt my desires and my pride no more. The con-
templation of Beauty is a duel where the artist screams
with terror before being vanquished.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 121
To Franz Liszt
What is a thyrsus? According to the moral and poeti-
cal sense, it is a sacerdotal emblem in the hand of the
priests or priestesses celebrating the divinity of whom
they are the interpreters and servants. But physically it
is no more than a baton, a purp staff, a hop-pole, a vine-
prop; dry, straight, and hard. Around this baton, in
capricious meanderings, stems and flowers twine and
wanton; these, sinuous and fugitive; those, hanging like
bells or inverted cups. And an astonishing complexity
disengages itself from this complexity of tender or bril-
liant lines and colours. Would not one suppose that the
curved line and the spiral pay their court to the straight
line, and twine about in a mute adoration? Would not
one say that all these delicate corollae, all these calices,
explosions of odours and colours, execute a mystical
dance around the hieratic staff? And what imprudent
mortal will dare to decide whether the flowers and the
vine branches have been made for the baton, or whether
the baton is not but a pretext to set forth the beauty of
the vine branches and the flowers?
The thyrsus is the symbol of your astonishing duality,
O powerful and venerated master, dear bacchanal of a
mysterious- and impassioned Beauty. ' Never a nymph
excited by the mysterious Dionysius shook her thyrsus
over the heads of her companions with as much energy
as your genius trembles in the hearts of your brothers.
The baton is your will: erect, firm, unshakeable; the
flowers are the wanderings of your fancy around it: the
feminine element encircling the masculine with her illu-
sive dance. Straight line and arabesque — intention and
122 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
expression — the rigidity of the will and the suppleness
of the word — a variety of means united for a single pur-
pose — the all-powerful and indivisible amalgam that is
genius — what analyst will have the detestable courage to
divide or to separate you?
Dear Liszt, across the fogs, beyond the flowers, in
towns where the pianos chant your glory, where the print-
ing-house translates your wisdom; in whatever place
you be, in the splendour of the Eternal City or among
the fogs of the dreamy towns that Cambrinus consoles;
improvising rituals of delight or ineffable pain, or giving
to paper your abstruse meditations; singer of eternal
pleasure and pain, philosopher, poet, and artist, I offer
you the salutation of immortality!
As the carriage traversed the wood he bade the driver
draw up in the neighbourhood of a shooting gallery, say-
ing that he would like to have a few shots to kill time.
Is not the slaying of the monster Time the most ordinary
and legitimate occupation of man? — So he gallantly of-
fered his hand to his dear, adorable, and execrable wife;
the mysterious woman to whom he owed so many pleas-
ures, so many pains, and perhaps also a great part of his
Several bullets went wide of the proposed mark, one
of them flew far into the heavens, and as the charming
creature laughed deliriously, mocking the clumsiness of
her husband, he turned to her brusquely and said: "Ob-
serve that doll yonder, to the right, with its nose in the
air, and with so haughty an appearance. Very well, dear
angel, / will imagine to myself that it is you!"
He closed both eyes and pulled the trigger. The doll
-was neatly decapitated.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 123
Then, bending towards his dear, adorable, and ex-
ecrable wife, his inevitable and pitiless muse, he kissed
her respectfully upon the hand, and added, "Ah, dear
angel, how I thank you for my skill!"
THE SHOOTING-RANGE AND THE CEMETERY
"Cemetery View Inn" — "A queer sign," said our
traveller to himself; "but it raises a thirst! Certainly
the keeper of this inn appreciates Horace and the poet
pupils of Epicurus. Perhaps he even apprehends the
profound philosophy of those old Egyptians who had no
feast without its skeleton, or some emblem of life's brev-
He entered: drank a glass of beer in presence of the
tombs; and slowly smoked a cigar. Then, his phantasy
driving him, he went down into the cemetery, where the
grass was so tall and inviting; so brilliant in the sun-
The light and heat, indeed, were so furiously intense
that one had said the drunken sun wallowed upon a
carpet of flowers that had fattened upon the corruption
The air was heavy with vivid rumours of life — the life
of things infinitely small — and broken at intervals by
the crackling of shots from a neighbouring shooting-
range, that exploded with a sound as of champagne corks
to the burden of a hollow symphony.
And then, beneath a sun which scorched the brain,
and in that atmosphere charged with the ardent perfume
of death, he heard a voice whispering out of the tomb
where he sat. And this voice said: "Accursed be your
rifles and targets, you turbulent living ones, who care
so little for the dead in their divine repose! Accursed be
your ambitions and calculations, importunate mortals
124 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
who study the arts of slaughter near the sanctuary of
Death himself! Did you but know how easy the prize
to win, how facile the end to reach, and how all save
Death is naught, not so greatly would you fatigue your-
selves, O ye laborious alive; nor would you so often vex
the slumber of them that long ago reached the End — the
only true end of life detestable! "
THE DESIRE TO PAINT
Unhappy perhaps is the man, but happy the artist,
who is torn with this desire.
I burn to paint a certain woman who has appeared to
me so rarely, and so swiftly fled away, like some beauti-
ful, regrettable thing the traveller must leave behind him
in the night. It is already long since I saw hep.
She is beautiful, and more than beautiful: she is over-
powering. The colour black preponderates in her; all
that she inspires is nocturnal and profound. Her eyes
are two caverns where mystery vaguely stirs and gleams ;
her glance illuminates like a ray of light; it is an explo-
sion in the darkness.
I would compare her to a black sun if one could con-
ceive of a dark star overthrowing light and happiness.
But it is the moon that she makes one dream of most
readily; the moon, who has without doubt touched her
with her own influence ; not the white moon of the idylls,
who resembles a cold bride, but the sinister and intoxi-
cating moon suspended in the depths of a stormy night,
among the driven clouds; not the discreet peaceful moon
who visits the dreams of pure men, but the moon torn
from the sky, conquered and revolted, that the witches of
ThessaJy hardly constrain to dance upon the terrified
Her small brow is the habitation of a tenacious will
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 125
and the love of prey. And below this inquiet face, whose
mobile nostrils breathe in the unknown and the im-
possible, glitters, with an unspeakable grace, the smile
of a large mouth; white, red, and delicious; a mouth
that makes one dream of the miracle of some superb
flower unclosing in a volcanic land.
There are women who inspire one with the desire to
woo them and win them ; but she makes one wish to die
slowly beneath her steady gaze.
THERE»are some natures purely contemplative and an-
tipathetic to action, who nevertheless, under a mysterious
and inexplicable impulse, sometimes act with a rapidity
of which they would have believed themselves incapable.
Such a one is he who, fearing to find some new vexation
awaiting him at his lodgings, prowls about in a cowardly
fashion before the door without daring to enter; such a
one is he who keeps a letter fifteen days without opening
it, or only makes up his mind at the end of six months
to undertake a journey that has been a necessity for a
year past. Such beings sometimes feel themselves pre-
cipitately thrust towards action, like an arrow from a
The novelist and the physician, who profess to know
all things, yet cannot explain whence comes this sudden
and delirious energy to indolent and voluptuous souls;
nor how, incapable of accomplishing the simplest and
most necessary things, they are at some certain moment
of time possessed by a superabundant hardihood which
enables them to execute the most absurd and even the
most dangerous acts.
One of my friends, the most harmless dreamer that
ever lived, at one time set fire to a forest, in order to
1^6 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
ascertain, as he said, whether the flames take hold with
the easiness that is commonly affirmed. His experiment
failed ten times running, on the eleventh it succeeded
only too well.
Another lit a cigar by the side of a powder barrel, in
order to see, to know, to tempt Destiny, for a jest, to
have the pleasure of suspense, for no reason at all, out of
caprice, out of idleness. This is a kind of energy that
springs from weariness and reverie; and those in whom
it manifests so stubbornly are in general, as I have said,
the most indolent and dreamy beings.
Another so timid that he must cast down his eyes
before the gaze of any man, and summon all his poor
will before he dare enter a cafe or pass the pay-box of a
theatre, where the ticket-seller seems, in his eyes, in-
vested with all the majesty of Minos, Mcus, and Rhada-
manthus, will at times throw himself upon the neck of
some old man whom he sees in the street, and embrace
him with enthusiasm in sight of an astonished crowd.
Why? Because — because this countenance is irresistibly
attractive to him? Perhaps; but it is more legitimate to
suppose that he himself does not know why.
I have been more than once a victim to these crises
and outbreaks which give us cause to believe that evil-
meaning demons* slip into us, to make us the ignorant
accomplices of their most absurd desires. One morning
I arose in a sullen mood, very sad, and tired of idleness,
and thrust as it seemed to me to the doing of some great
thing, some brilliant act — and then, alas, I opened the
(I beg you to observe that in some people the spirit of
mystification is not the result of labour or combination,
but rather of a fortuitous inspiration which would par-
take, were it not for the strength of the feeling, of the
mood called hysterical by the physician and satanic by
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 127
those who think a little more profoundly than the physi«
cian; the mood which thrusts us unresisting to a multi'
tude of dangerous and inconvenient acts.)
The first person I noticed in the street was a glass-
vendor whose shrill and discordant cry mounted up to
me through the heavy, dull atmosphere of Paris. It
would have been else impossible to account for the sud-
den and despotic hatred of this poor man that came
"Hello, there!" I cried, and bade him ascend. Mean-
while I reflected, not without' gaiety, that as my room
was on the sixth landing, and the stairway very narrow,
the man would have some difficulty in ascending, and in
many a place would break off the corners of his fragile
At length he appeared. I examined all his glasses
with curiosity, and then said to him: "What, have you
no coloured glasses? Glasses of rose and crimson and
blue, magical glasses, glasses of Paradise? You are
insolent. You dare to walk in mean streets when you
have no glasses that would make one see beauty in life?"
And I hurried him briskly to the staircase, which he
staggered down, grumbling.
I went on to the balcony and caught up a little flower-
pot, and when the man appeared in the doorway beneath
I let fall my engine of war perpendicularly upon the edge
of his pack, so that it was upset by the shock and all his
poor walking fortune broken to bits. It made a noise
like a palace of crystal shattered by lightning. Mad
with my folly, I cried furiously after him: "The life
beautiful! the life beautiful!"
Such nervous pleasantries are not without peril; often
enough one pays dearly for them. But what matters an
eternity of damnation to him who has found in one
second an eternity of enjoyment?
128 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
Vauvenargues says that in public gardens there axe
alleys haunted principally by thwarted ambition, by un-
fortunate inventors, by aborted glories and broken hearts,
and by all those tumultuous and contracted souls in
whom the last sighs of the storm mutter yet again, and
who thus betake themselves far from the insolent and
joyous eyes of the well-to-do. These shadowy retreats
are the rendezvous of life's cripples.
To such places above all others do the poet and philos-
opher direct their avid conjectures. They find there an
unfailing pasturage, for if there is one place they dis-
dain to visit it is, as I have already hinted, the place of
the joy of the rich, A turmoil in the void has no attrac-
tions for them. On the contrary, they feel themselves
irresistibly drawn towards all that is feeble, ruined, sor-
rowing, and bereft.
An experienced eye is never deceived. In these rigid
and dejected lineaments; in these eyes, wan and hollow,
or bright with the last fading gleams of the combat
against fate ; in these numerous profound wrinkles and in
the slow and troubled gait, the eye of experience de-
ciphers unnumbered legends of mistaken devotion, of un-
rewarded effort, of hunger and cold humbly and silently
Have you not at times seen widows sitting on the
deserted benches? Poor widows, I mean. Whether in
mourning or not they are easily recognised. Moreover,
there is always something wanting in the mourning of
the poor; a lack of harmony which but renders it the
more heart-breaking. It is forced to be niggardly in its
show of grief. They are the rich who exhibit a full com-
plement of sorrow.
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE , 129
Who is the saddest and most saddening of widows:
she who leads by the hand a child who cannot share her
reveries, or she who is quite alone? I do not know. . . .
It happened that I once followed for several long hours
an aged and afflicted woman of this kind: rigid and
erect, wrapped in a little worn shawl, she carried in all
her being the pride of stoicism.
She was evidently condemned by her absolute loneli-
ness to the habits of an ancient celibacy; and the mascu-
line characters of her habits added to their austerity a
piquant mysteriousness. In what miserable cafe she
dines I know not, nor in what manner. I followed her
to a reading-room, and for a long time watched her read-
ing the papers, her active eyes, that once burned with
tears, seeking for news of a powerful and personal in-
At length, in the afternoon, under a charming au-
tumnal sky, one of those skies that let fall hosts of
memories and regrets, she seated herself remotely in a
garden, to listen, far from the crowd, to one of the
regimental bands whose music gratifies the people of
Paris. This was without doubt the small debauch of the
innocent old woman (or the purified old woman), the
well-earned consolation for another of the burdensome
days without a friend, without conversation, without joy,
without a confidant, that God had allowed to fall upon
her perhaps for many years past — three hundred and
sixty-five times a year!
Yet one more:
I can .never prevent myself from throwing a glance,
if not sympathetic at least full of curiosity, over the
crowd of outcasts who press around the enclosure of a
public concert. From the orchestra, across the night,
float songs of fete, of triumph, or of pleasure. The
dresses of the women sweep and shimmer; glances pass;
130 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
the well-to-do, tired with doing nothing, saunter about
and make indolent pretence of listening to the music.
Here are only the rich, the happy; here is nothing that
does not inspire or exhale the pleasure of being alive,
except the aspect of the mob that presses against the
outer barrier yonder, catching gratis, at the will of the
wind, a tatter of music, and watching the glittering fur-
There is a reflection of the joy of the rich deep in the
eyes of the poor that is always interesting. But to-day,
beyond this people dressed in blouses and calico, I saw
one whose nobility was in striking contrast with all the
surrounding triviality. She was a tall, majestic woman,
and so imperious in all her air that I cannot remember
having seen the like in the collections of the aristocratic
beauties of the past. A perfume of exalted virtue eman-
ated from all her being. Her face, sad and worn, was
in perfect keeping with the deep mourning in which
she was dressed. She also, like the plebeians she mingled
with and did not see, looked upon the luminous world
with a profound eye, and listened with a toss of her
It was a strange vision. "Most certainly," I said to
myself, "this poverty, if poverty it be, ought not to ad-
mit of any sordid economy; so noble a face answers for
that. Why then does she remain in surroundings with
which she is so strikingly in contrast?"
But in curiously passing near her I was able to divine
the reason. The tall widow held by the hand a child
dressed like herself in black. Modest as was the price
of entry, this price perhaps sufficed to pay for some of
the needs of the little being, or even more, for a super-
fluity, a toy.
She will return on foot, dreaming and meditating — and
alone, always alone, for the child is turbulent and selfish,
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 131
without gentleness or patience, and cannot become, any
more than another animal, a dog or a cat, the confidant
of solitary griefs.
THE TEMPTATIONS; OR, EROS, PLUTUS, AND
Last night two superb Satans and a She-devil not less
extraordinary ascended the mysterious stairway by which
Hell gains access to the frailty of sleeping man, and
communes with him in secret. These three postured
gloriously before me, as though they had been upon a
stage — and a sulphurous splendour emanated from these
beings who so disengaged themselves from the opaque
heart of the night. They bore with them so proud a
presence, and so full of mastery, that at first I took
them for three of the true Gods.
The first Satan, by his face, was a creature of doubtful
sex. The softness of an ancient Bacchus shone in the
lines of his body. His beautiful languorous eyes, of a
tenebrous and indefinite colour, were like violets still
laden with the heavy tears of the storm; his slightly-
parted lips were like heated censers, from whence ex-
haled the sweet savour of many perfumes; and each time
he breathed, exotic insects drew, as they fluttered,
strength from the ardours of his breath.
Twined about his tunic of purple stuff, in the manner
of a cincture, was an iridescent Serpent with lifted head
and eyes like embers turned sleepily towards him. Phials
full of sinister fluids, alternating with shining knives and
instruments of surgery, hung from this living girdle. He
held in his right hand a flagon containing a luminous red
fluid, and inscribed with a legend in these singular words:
132 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
'''drink of this my blood: a perfect restorative";
and in his left hand held a violin that without doubt
served to sing his pleasures and pains, and to spread
abroad the contagion of his folly upon the nights of the
From rings upon his delicate ankles trailed a broken
chain of gold, and when the burden of this caused him
to bend his eyes towards the earth, he would contemplate
with vanity the nails of his feet, as brilliant and polished
as well-wrought jewels.
He looked at me with eyes inconsolably heart-broken
and giving forth an insidious intoxication, and cried in a
chanting voice: "If thou wilt, if thou wilt, I will make
thee an overlord of souls; thou shalt be master of living
matter more perfectly than the sculptor is master of his
clay; thou shalt taste the pleasure, reborn without end,
of obliterating thyself in the self of another, and of lur-
ing other souls to lose themselves in thine."
But I replied to him: "I thank thee. I only gain
from this venture, then, beings of no more worth than
my poor self? Though remembrance brings me shame
indeed, I would forget nothing; and even before I rec-
ognised thee, thou ancient monster, thy mysterious cut-
lery, thy equivocal phials, and the chain that imprisons
thy feet, were symbols showing clearly enough the in-
convenience of thy friendship. Keep thy gifts."
The second Satan had neither the air at once tragical
and smiling, the lovely insinuating ways, nor the delicate
and scented beauty of the first. A gigantic man, with a
coarse, eyeless face, his heavy paunch overhung his hips
and was gilded and pictured, like a tattooing, with a
crowd of little moving figures which represented the un-
numbered forms of universal misery. There were little
sinew-shrunken men who hung themselves willingly from
LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE 133
nails; there were meagre gnomes, deformed and under-
sized, whose beseeching eyes begged an alms even more
eloquently than their trembling hands; there were old
mothers who nursed clinging abortions at their pendent
breasts. And many others, even more surprising.
This heavy Satan beat with his fist upon his immense
belly, from whence came a loud and resounding metallic
clangour, which died away in a sighing made by many
human voices. And he smiled unrestrainedly, showing
his broken teeth — the imbecile smile of a man who has
dined too freely. Then the creature said to me:
"I can give thee that which gets all, which is worth
all, which takes the place of all." And he tapped his
monstrous paunch, whence came a sonorous echo as the
commentary to his obscene speech. I turned away with
disgust and replied: "I need no man's misery to bring
me happiness; nor will I have the sad wealth of all the
misfortunes pictured upon thy skin as upon a tapestry."
As for the She-devil, I should lie if I denied that at
first I found in her a certain strange charm, which to
define I can but compare to the charm of certain beauti-
ful women past their first youth, who yet seem to age no
more, whose beauty keeps something of the penetrating
magic of ruins. She had an air at once imperious and
sordid, and her eyes, though heavy, held a certain power
of fascination. I was struck most by her voice, wherein
I found the remembrance of the most delicious contralti,
as well as a little of the hoarseness of a throat continually
laved with brandy.
"Wouldst thou know my power?" said the charming
and paradoxical voice of the false goddess. "Then
listen." And she put to her mouth a gigantic trumpet,
enribboned, like a mirliton, with the titles of all the
newspapers in the world; and through this trumpet she
cried my name so that it rolled through space with the
134 LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE
sound of a hundred thousand thunders, and came re-
echoing back to me from the farthest planet.
"Devil!" cried I, half tempted, "that at least is worth
something." But it vaguely struck me, upon examining
the seductive virago more attentively, that I had seen
her clinking glasses with certain drolls of my acquaint-
ance, and her blare of brass carried to my ears I know
not what memory of a fanfare prostituted.
So I replied, with all disdain: "Get thee hence! I
know better than wed the light o' love of them that I
will not name."
Truly, I had the right to be proud of a so courageous
renunciation. But unfortunately I awoke, and all my
courage left me. "In truth," I said, "I must have been
very deeply asleep indeed to have had such scruples. Ah,
if they would but return while I am awake, I would not
be so delicate."
So I invoked the three in a loud voice, offering to
dishonour myself as often as necessary to obtain their
favours; but I had without doubt too deeply offended
them, for they have never returned.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Translated by F. P. Sturm
THE DANCE OF DEATH
Carrying bouquet, and handkerchief, and gloves,
Proud of her height as when she lived, she moves
With all the careless and high-stepping grace.
And the extravagant courtesan's thin face.
Was slimmer waist e'er in a ball-room wooed?
Her floating robe, in royal amplitude.
Falls in deep folds around a dry foot, shod
With a bright flower-like shoe that gems the sod.
The swarms that hum about her collar-bones
As the lascivious streams caress the stones.
Conceal from every scornful jest that flies.
Her gloomy beauty; and her fathomless eyes
Are made of shade and void ; with flowery sprays
Her skull is wreathed artistically, and sways.
Feeble and weak, on her frail vertebrae.
O charm of nothing decked in folly! they
Who laugh and name you a Caricature,
They see not, they whom flesh and blood allure,
The nameless grace of every bleached, bare bone,
That is most dear to me, tall skeleton!
Come you to trouble with your potent sneer
The feast of Life! or are you driven here,
To Pleasure's Sabbath, by dead lusts that stir
And goad your moving corpse on with a spur?
138 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Or do you hope, when sing the violins,
And the pale candle-flame lights up our sins,
To drive some mocking nightmare far apart.
And cool the flame hell lighted in your heart?.
Fathomless well of fault and foolishness!
Eternal alembic of antique distress!
Still o'er the curved, white trellis of your sides
The sateless, wandering serpent curls and glides.
And truth to tell, I fear lest you should find,
Among us here, no lover to your mind ;
Which of these hearts beat for the smile you gave?
The charms of horror please none but the brave.
Your eyes' black gulf, where awful broodings stir,
Brings giddiness; the prudent reveller
Sees, while a horror grips him from beneath.
The eternal smile of thirty-two white teeth.
For he who has not folded in his arms
A skeleton, nor fed on graveyard charms,
Recks not of furbelow, or paint, or scent,
When Horror comes the way that Beauty went.
O irresistible, with fleshless face.
Say to these dancers in their dazzled race:
"Proud lovers with the paint above your bones.
Ye shall taste death, musk-scented skeletons!
Withered Antinous, dandies with plump faces,
Ye varnished cadavers, and grey Lovelaces,
Ye go to lands unknown and void of breath,
Drawn by the rumour of the Dance of Death.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 139
From Seine's cold quays to Ganges' burning stream,
The mortal troupes dance onward in a dream;
They do not see, within the opened sky,
The Angel's sinister trumpet raised on high.
In every clime and under every sun,
Death laughs at ye, mad mortals, as ye run;
And oft perfumes herself with myrrh, like ye;
And mingles with your madness, irony 1"
Rubens, oblivious garden of indolence.
Pillow of cool flesh where no man dreams of love,
Where life flows forth in troubled opulence,
As airs in heaven and seas in ocean move.
Leonard da Vinci, sombre and fathomless glass,
Where lovely angels with calm lips that smile.
Heavy with mystery, in the shadow pass.
Among the ice and pines that guard some isle.
Rembrandt, sad hospital that a murmuring fills.
Where one tall crucifix hangs on the walls,
Where every tear-drowlned prayer some woe distils,
And one cold, wintry ray obliquely falls.
Strong Michelangelo, a vague far place
Where mingle Christs with pagan Hercules;
Thin phantoms of the great through twilight pace,
And tear their ^roud with clenched hands void of
140 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
The fighter's anger, the faun's impudence,
Thou makest of all these a lovely thing;
Proud heart, sick body, mind's magnificence:
PuGET, the convict's melancholy king.
Watteau, the carnival of illustrious hearts.
Fluttering like moths upon the wings of chance;
Bright lustres light the silk that flames and darts.
And pour down folly on the whirling dance.
Goya, a nightmare full of things unknown;
The foetus witches broil on Sabbath night;
Old women at the mirror; children lone
Who tempt old demons with their limbs delight.
Delacroix, lake of blood ill angels haunt.
Where ever-green, o'ershadowing woods arise;
Under the surly heaven strange fanfares chaunt
And pass, like one of Weber's strangled sighs.
And malediction, blasphemy and groan,
Ecstasies, cries, Te Deums, and tears of brine,
Are echoes through a thousand labyrinths flown;
For mortal hearts an opiate divine;
A shout cried by a thousand sentinels.
An order from a thousand bugles tossed,
A beacon o'er a thousand citadels,
A call to huntsmen in deep woodlands lost.
It is the mightiest witness that could rise
To prove our dignity, O Lord, to .Thee;
This sob that rolls from age to age, and dies
Upon the verge of Thy Eternity!
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 141
THE SADNESS OF THE MOON
The Moon more indolently dreams to-night
Than a fair woman on her couch at rest,
Caressing, with a hand distraught and light,
Before she sleeps, the contour of her breast.
Upon her silken avalanche of down.
Dying she breathes a long and swooning sigh;
And watches the white visions past her flown.
Which rise like blossoms to the azure sky.
And when, at times, wrapped in her languor deep,
Earthward she lets a furtive tear-drop flow,
Some pious poet, enemy of sleep.
Takes in his hollow hand the tear of snow
Whence gleams of iris and of opal start.
And hides it from the Sun, deep in his heart.
Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
O thou, my pleasure, thou, all my desire,
Thou shalt recall the beauty of caresses,
The charm of evenings by the gentle fire.
Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses I
The eves illumined by the burning coal.
The balcony where veiled rose-vapour clings —
How soft your breast was then, how sweet your soul I
Ah, and we said imperishable things.
Those eves illumined by the burning coal.
142 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Lovely the suns were in those twilights warm,
And space profound, and strong life's pulsing flood,
In bending o'er you, queen of every charm,
I thought I breathed the perfume in your blood.
The suns were beauteous in those twilights warm.
The film of night flowed round and over us,
And my eyes in the dark did your eyes meet;
I drank your breath, ah! sweet and poisonous,
And in my hands fraternal slept your feet —
Night, like a film, flowed round and over us.
I can recall those happy days forgot.
And see, with head bowed on your knees, my past.
Your languid beauties now would move me not
Did not your gentle heart and body cast
The old spell of those happy days forgot.
Can vows and perfumes, kisses infinite.
Be reborn from the gulf we cannot sound;
As rise to heaven suns once again made bright
After being plunged in deep seas and profound?
Ah, vows and perfumes, kisses infinite!
THE SICK MUSE
Poor Muse, alas, what ail's thee, then, to-day?
Thy hollow eyes with midnight visions bum,
Upon thy brow in alternation play.
Folly and Horror, cold and taciturn.
Have the green lemure and the goblin red,
Poured on thee love and terror from their urn?
Or with despotic hand the nightmare dread
Deep plunged thee in some fabulous Mintume?
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 143
Would that thy breast where so deep thoughts arise,
Breathed forth a healthful perfume with thy sighs ;
Would that thy Christian blood ran wave by wave
In rhythmic sounds the antique numbers gave,
When Phoebus shared his alternating reign
With mighty Pan, lord of the ripening grain.
THE VENAL MUSE
Muse of my heart, lover of palaces,
When January comes with wind and sleet,
During the snowy eve's long wearinesses,
Will there be fire to warm thy violet feet?
Wilt thou reanimate thy marble shoulders
In the moon-beams that through the window fly?
Or when thy purse dries up, thy palace moulders,
Reap the far star-gold of the vaulted sky?
For thou, to keep thy body to thy soul.
Must swing a censer, wear a holy stole.
And chaunt Te Deums with unbelief between.
Or, like a starving mountebank, expose
Thy beauty and thy tear-drowned smile to those
Who wait thy jests to drive away thy spleen.
THE EVIL MONK
The ancient cloisters on their lofty walls
Had holy Truth in painted frescoes shown,
And, seeing these, the pious in those halls
Felt their cold, lone austereness less alone.
144 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
At that time when Christ's seed flowered all around,
More than one monk, forgotten in his hour,
Taking for studio the burial-ground.
Glorified Death with simple faith and power.
And my soul is a sepulchre where I,
111 cenobite, have spent eternity:
On the vile cloister walls no pictures rise.
O when may I cast off this weariness,
And make the pageant of my old distress
For these hands labour, pleasure for these eyes?
The Demon, in my chamber high.
This morning came to visit me.
And, thinking he would find some fault,
He whispered: "I would know of thee
Among the many lovely things
That make the magic of her face.
Among the beauties, black and rose.
That make her body's charm and grace.
Which is most fair?" Thou didst reply
To the Abhorred, O soul of mine:
"No single beauty is the best
When she is all one flower divine.
When all things charm me I ignore
Which one alone brings most delight;
She shines before me like the dawn.
And she consoles me like the night.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 145
The harmony is far too great,
That governs all her body fair.
For impotence to analyse
And say which note is sweetest there.
O mystic metamorphosis!
My senses into one sense flow —
Her voice makes perfume when she speaks,
Her breath is music faint and low! "
Can we suppress the old Remorse
Who bends our heart beneath his stroke,
Who feeds, as worms feed on the corse,
Or as the acorn on the oak?
Can we suppress the old Remorse?
Ah, in what philtre, wine, or spell,
May we drown this our ancient foe,
Destructive glutton, .gorging well,
Patient as the ants, and slow?
What wine, what philtre, or what spell?
Tell it, enchantress, if you can,
Tell me, with anguish overcast,
Wounded, as a dying man.
Beneath the swift hoofs hurrjdng past.
Tell it, enchantress, if you can,
To him the wolf already tears
Who sees the carrion pinions wave
This broken warrior who despairs
To have a cross above his grave —
This wretch the wolf already tears.
146 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Can one illume a leaden sky,
Or tear apart the shadowy veil
Thicker than pitch, no star on high,
Not one funereal glimmer pale?
Can one illume a leaden sky?
Hope lit the windows of the Inn,
But now that shining flame is dead;
And how shall martyred pilgrims win
Along the moonless road they tread?
Satan has darkened all the Inn!
Witch, do you love accursed hearts?
Say, do you know the reprobate?
Know you Remorse, whose venomed darts
Make souls the targets for their hate?
Witch, do you know accursed hearts?
The Might-have-been with tooth accursed
Gnaws at the piteous souls of men.
The deep foundations suffer first.
And all the structure crumbles then
Beneath the bitter tooth accursed.
Often, when seated at the play.
And sonorous music lights the stage,
I see the frail hand of a Fay
With magic dawn illume the rage
Of the dark sky. Oft at the play
A being made of gauze and fire
Casts to the earth a Demon great.
And my heart, whence all hopes expire,
Is like a stage where I await,
In vain, the Fay with wings of fire!
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 147
A FORMER LIFE
Long since, I lived beneath vast porticoes,
By many ocean-sunsets tinged and fired,
Where mighty pillars, in majestic rows,
Seemed like basaltic caves when day expired.
The rolling surge that mirrored all the skies
Mingled its music, turbulent and rich,
Solemn and mystic, with the colours which
The setting sun reflected in my eyes.
And there I lived amid voluptuous calms,
In splendours of blue sky and wandering wave.
Tended by many a naked, perfumed slave.
Who fanned my languid brow with waving palms.
They were my slaves — the only care they had
To know what secret grief had made me sad.
DON JUAN IN HADES
When Juan sought the subterranean flood,
And paid his obolus on the Stygian shore,
Charon, the proud and sombre beggar, stood
With one strong, vengeful hand on either oar.
With open robes and bodies agonised.
Lost women writhed beneath that darkling sky;
There were sounds as of victims sacrificed:
Behind him all the dark was one long cry.
148 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
And Sganarelle, with laughter, claimed his pledge;
Don Luis, with trembling finger in the air,
Showed to the souls who wandered in the sedge
The evil son who scorned his hoary hair.
Shivering with woe, chaste Elvira the while,
Near him untrue to all but her till now.
Seemed to beseech him for one farewell smile
Lit with the sweetness of the first soft vow.
And clad in armour, a tall man of stone
Held firm the helm, and clove the gloomy flood ;
But, staring at the vessel's track alone.
Bent on his sword the unmoved hero stood.
THE LIVING FLAME
They pass before me, these Eyes full of light.
Eyes made magnetic by some angel wise;
The holy brothers pass before my sight.
And cast their diamond fires in my dim eyes.
They keep me from all sin and error grave.
They set me in the path whence Beauty came;
They are my servants, and I am their slave,
And all my soul obeys the living flame.
Beautiful Eyes that gleam with mystic light
As candles lighted at full noon ; the sun
Dims not your flame phantastical and bright.
You sing the dawn; they celebrate life done;
Marching you chaunt my soul's awakening hymn,
Stars that no sun has ever made grow dim!
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 149
In Nature's temple living pillars rise,
And words are murmured none have understood,
And man must wander through a tangled wood
Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.
As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim
Mingle to one deep sound and fade away;
Vast as the night and brilliant as the day,
Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.
Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,
Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;
Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild.
Have all the expansion of things infinite :
As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,
Which sing the sense's and the soul's delight.
There are some powerful odours that can pass
Out of the stoppered flagon; even glass
To them is porous. Oft when some old box
Brought from the East is opened and the locks
And hinges creak and cry; or in a press
In some deserted house, where the sharp stress
Of odours old and dusty fills the brain ;
An ancient flask is brought to light again.
And forth the ghosts of long-dead odours creep.
There, softly trembling in the shadows, sleep
A thousand thoughts, funereal chrysalides.
150 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Phantoms of old the folding darkness hides,
Who make faint flutterings as their wings unfold,
Rose-washed and azure-tinted, shot with gold.
A memory that brings languor flutters here:
The fainting eyelids droop, and giddy Fear
Thrusts with both hands the soul towards the pit
Where, like a Lazarus from his winding-sheet.
Arises from the gulf of sleep a ghost
Of an old passion, long since loved and lost.
So I, when vanished from man's memory
Deep in some dark and sombre chest I lie,
An empty flagon they have cast aside,
Broken and soiled, the dust upon my pride,
Will be your shroud, beloved pestilence!
The witness of your might and virulence.
Sweet poison mixed by angels ; bitter cup
Of life and death my heart has drunken up!
Angel of gaiety, have you tasted grief?
Shame and remorse and sobs and weary spite.
And the vague terrors of the fearful night
That crush the heart up like a crumpled leaf?
Angel of gaiety, have you tasted grief?
Angel of kindness, have you tasted hate?
With hands clenched in the shade and tears of gall,
When Vengeance beats her hellish battle-call,
And makes herself the captain of our fate,
Angel of kindness, have you tasted hate?
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 151
Angel of health, did ever you know pain,
Which like an exile trails his tired footfalls
The cold length of the white infirmary walls,
With lips compressed, seeking the sun in vain?
Angel of health, did ever you know pain?
Angel of beauty, do you wrinkles know?
Know you the fear of age, the torment vile
Of reading secret horror in the smile
Of eyes your eyes have loved since long ago?
Angel of beauty, do you wrinkles know?
Angel of happiness, and joy, and light.
Old David would have asked for youth afresh
From the pure touch of your enchanted flesh;
I but implore your prayers to aid my plight,
Angel of happiness, and joy, and light.
THE EYES OF BEAUTY
You are a sky of autumn, pale and rose;
But all the sea of sadness in my blood
Surges, and ebbing, leaves my lips morose,
Salt with the memory of the bitter flood.
In vain your hand glides my faint bosom o'er,
That which you seek, beloved, is desecrate
By woman's tooth and talon; ah, no more
Seek in me for a heart which those dogs ate.
It is a ruin where the jackals rest.
And rend and tear and glut themselves and slay-
A perfume swims about your naked breast!
152 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Beauty, hard scourge of spirits, have your way!
With flame-like eyes that at bright feasts have flared
Burn up these tatters that the beasts have spared!
SONNET OF AUTUMN
They say to me, thy clear and crystal eyes:
"Why dost thou love me so, strange lover mine?"
Be sweet, be still! My heart and soul despise
All save that antique brute-like faith of thine;
And will not bare the secret of their shame
To thee whose hand soothes me to slumbers long,
Nor their black legend write for thee in flame!
Passion I hate, a spirit does me wrong.
Let us love gently. Love, from his retreat.
Ambushed and shadowy, bends his fatal bow,
And I too well his ancient arrows know:
Crime, horror, folly, O pale Marguerite,
Thou art as I, a bright sun fallen low,
O my so white, my so cold Marguerite.
THE REMORSE OF THE DEAD
O SHADOWY Beauty mine, when thou shalt sleep
In the deep heart of a black marble tomb;
When thou for mansion and for bower shalt keep
Only one rainy cave of hollow gloom;
THE FLOWERS OF. EVIL 153
And when the stone upon thy trembling breast,
And on thy straight sweet body's supple grace,
Crushes thy will and keeps thy heart at rest,
And holds those feet from their adventurous race;
Then the deep grave, who shares my reverie,
(For the deep grave is aye the poet's friend)
During long nights when sleep is far from thee,
Shall whisper: "Ah, thou didst not comprehend
The dead wept thus, thou woman frail and weak" — •
And like remorse the worm shall gnaw thy cheek.
Softly as brown-eyed Angels rove
I will return to thy alcove.
And glide upon the night to thee.
Treading the shadows silently.
And I will give to thee, my own,
Kisses as icy as the moon.
And the caresses of a snake
Cold gliding in the thorny brake.
And when returns the livid morn
Thou shalt find all my place forlorn
And chilly, till the falling night.
Others would rule by tenderness
Over thy life and youthfulness,
But I would conquer thee by fright!
154 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
TO A MADONNA
(An Ex-Voto in the Spanish taste.)
Madonna, mistress, I would build for thee
An altar deep in the sad soul of me;
And in the darkest corner of my heart,
From mortal hop)es and mocking eyes apart,
Carve of enamelled blue and gold a shrine
For thee to .stand erect in, Image divine!
And with a mighty Crown thou shalt be crowned
Wrought of the gold of my smooth Verse, set round
With starry crystal rhymes; and I will make,
O mortal maid, a Mantle for thy sake,-
And weave it of my jealousy, a gown
Heavy, barbaric, stiff, and weighted down
With my distrust, and broider round the hem
Not pearls, but all my tears in place of them.
And then thy wavering, trembling robe shall be
All the desires that rise and fall in me
From mountain-peaks to valleys of repose.
Kissing thy lovely body's white and rose.
For thy humiliated feet divine,
Of my Respect I'll make thee Slippers fine
Which, prisoning them within a gentle fold.
Shall keep their imprint like a faithful mould.
And if my art, unwearying and discreet.
Can make no Moon of Silver for thy feet
To have for Footstool, then thy heel shall rest
Upon the snake that gnaws within my breast.
Victorious Queen of whom our hope is bom !
And thou shalt trample down and make a scorn
Of the vile reptile swollen up with hate.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 155
And thou shalt see my thoughts, all consecrate,
Like candles set before thy flower-strewn shrine,
O Queen of Virgins, and the taper-shine
Shall glimmer star-like in the vault of blue,
With eyes of flame for ever watching you.
While all the love and worship in my sense
Will be sweet smoke of myrrh and frankincense.
Ceaselesely up to thee, white peak of snow,
My stormy spirit will in vapours go!
And last, to make thy drama^ all complete,
That love and cruelty may mix and meet,
I, thy remorseful torturer, will take
All the Seven Deadly Sins, and from them make
In darkest joy. Seven Knives, cruel-edged and keen,
And like a juggler choosing, O my Queen,
That spot profound whence love and mercy start,
I'll plunge them all within thy panting heart!
Where'er he be, on water or on land,
Under pale suns or climes that flames enfold;
One of Christ's own, or of Cythera's band,
Shadowy beggar or Croesus rich with gold;
Citizen, peasant, student, tramp; whate'er
His little brain may be, alive or dead ;
Man knows the fear of mystery ever)rwhere,
» And peeps, with trembling glances, overhead.
The heaven above? A strangling cavern wall;
The lighted ceiling of a music-hall
Where every actor treads a bloody soil —
156 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
The hermit's hope; the terror of the sot;
The sky: the black lid of the mighty pot
Where the vast human generations boill
I'm like some king in whose corrupted veins
Flows aged blood; who rules a land of rains;
Who, young in years, is old in all distress;
Who flees good counsel to find weariness
Among his dogs and playthings, who is stirred
Neither by hunting-hound nor hunting-bird;
Whose weary face emotion moves no more
E'en when his people die before his door.
His favourite Jester's most fantastic wile
Upon that sick, cruel face can raise no smile ;
The courtly dames, to whom all kings are good,
Can lighten this young skeleton's dull mood
No more with shameless toilets. In his gloom
Even his lilied bed becomes a tomb.
The sage who takes his gold essays in vain
To purge away the old corrupted strain,
His baths of blood, that in the days of old
The Romans used when their hot blood grew cold,
Will never warm this dead man's bloodless pains,
For green Lethean water fills his veins.
Under the overhanging yews.
The dark owls sit in solemn state.
Like stranger gods; by twos and twos
Their red eyes gleam. They meditate.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 157
Motionless thus they sit and dream
Until that melancholy hour
When, with the sun's last fading gleam,
The nightly shades assume their power.
From their still attitude the wise
Will learn with terror to despise
All tumult, movement, and unrest;
For he who follows eVery shade,
Carries the memory in his breast.
Of each unhappy journey made.
BIEN LOIN DTCI
Here is the chamber consecrate.
Wherein this maiden delicate,
And enigmatically sedate,
Fans herself while the moments creep.
Upon her cushions half-asleep,
And hears the fountains plash and weep.
Dorothy's chamber undefiled.
The winds and waters sing afar
Their song of sighing strange and wild
To lull to sleep the petted child.
From head to foot with subtle care,
Slaves have perfumed her delicate skin
With odorous oils and benzoin.
And flowers faint in a corner there.
158 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Thou, O my Grief, be wise and tranquil still,
The eve is thine which even now drops down,
To carry peace or care to human will,
And in a misty veil enfolds the town.
While the vile mortals of the multitude,
By pleasure, cruel tormentor, goaded on,
Gather remorseful blossoms in light mood —
Grief, place thy hand in mine, let us be gone
Far from them. Lo, see how the vanished years,
In robes outworn lean over heaven's rim;
And from the water, smiling through her tears.
Remorse arises, and the sun grows dim;
And in the east, her long shroud trailing light,
List, O my grief, the gentle steps of Night.
TO A BROWN BEGGAR-MAID
White maiden with the russet hair,
Whose garments, through their holes, declare
That poverty is part of you.
And beauty too.
To me, a sorry bard and mean.
Your youthful beauty, frail and lean.
With summer freckles here and there,
Is sweet and fair.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 159
Your sabots tread the roads of chance,
And not one queen of old romance
Carried her velvet shoes and lace
With half your grace.
In place of tatters far too short
Let the proud garments worn at Court
Fall down with rustling fold and pleat
About your feet;
In place of stockings, worn and old,
Let a keen dagger all of gold
Gleam in your garter for the eyes
Of roues wise;
Let ribbons carelessly untied
Reveal to us the radiant pride
Of your white bosom purer far
Than any star;
Let your white arms uncovered shine,
Polished and smooth and half divine;
And let your elfish fingers chase
With riotous grace
The purest pearls that softly glow.
The sweetest sonnets of Belleau,
Offered by gallants ere they fight
For your delight;
And many fawning rhymers who
Inscribe their first thin book to you
Will contemplate upon the stair
Your slipper fair;
i6o THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
And many a page who plays at cards,
And many lords and many bards,
Will watch your going forth, and bum
For your return;
And you will count before your glass
More kisses than the lily has;
And more than one Valois will sigh
When you pass by.
But meanwhile you are on the tramp.
Begging your living in the damp,
Wandering mean streets and alleys o'er,
From door to door;
And shilling bangles in a shop
Cause you with eager eyes to stop.
And I, alas, have not a sou
To give to you.
Then go, with no more ornament.
Pearl, diamond, or subtle scent,
Than your own fragile naked grace
And lovely face. /
Andromache, I think of you! The stream.
The poor, sad mirror where in bygone days
Shone all the majesty of your widowed grief,
The lying Simois flooded by your tears.
Made all my fertile memory blossom forth
As I passed by the new-built Carrousel.
Old Paris is no more (a town, alas.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL i6i
Changes more quickly than man's heart may change);
Yet in my mind I still can see the booths;
The heaps of brick and rough-hewn capitals;
The grass; the stones all over-green with moss;
The debris, and the square-set heaps of tiles.
There a menagerie was once outspread;
And there I saw, one morning at the hour
When toil awakes beneath the cold, clear sky,
And the road roars upon the silent air,
A swan who had escaped his- cage, and walked
On the dry pavement with his webby feet,
And trailed his spotless plumage on the ground.
And near a waterless stream the piteous swan
Opened his beak, and bathing in the dust
His nervous wings, he cried (his heart the while
Filled with a vision of his own fair lake) :
"O water, when then wilt thou come in rain?
Lightning, when wilt thou glitter?"
I see the hapless bird — strange, fatal myth —
Like him that Ovid writes of, lifting up
Unto the cruelly blue, ironic heavens.
With stretched, convulsive neck a thirsty face,
As though he sent reproaches up to God!
Paris may change ; my melancholy is fixed.
New palaces, and scaffoldings, and blocks,
And suburbs old, are symbols all to me
Whose memories are as heavy as a stone.
And so, before the Louvre, to vex my soul,
The image came of my majestic swan
With his mad gestures, foolish and sublime,
i62 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
As of an exile whom one great desire
Gnaws with no truce. And then I thought of you,
Andromache! torn from your hero's arms;
Beneath the hand of Pyrrhus in his pride;
Bent o'er an empty tomb in ecstasy;
Widow of Hector — wife of Helenus!
And of the negress, wan and phthisical,
Tramping the mud, and with her haggard eyes
Seeking beyond the mighty walls of fog
The absent palm-trees of proud Africa;
Of all who lose that which they never find;
Of all who drink of tears; all whom grey grief
Gives suck to as the kindly wolf gave suck;
Of meagre orphans who like blossoms fade.
And one old Memory like a crying horn
Sounds through the forest where my soul is lost . s
I think of sailors on some isle forgotten;
Of captives; vanquished . . . and of many more.
THE SEVEN OLD MEN
SWARMING city, city full of dreams,
Where in full day the spectre walks and speaks;
Mighty colossus, in your narrow veins
My story flows as flows the rising sap.
One morn, disputing with my tired soul,
And like a hero stiffening all my nerves,
1 trod a suburb shaken by the jar
Of rolling wheels, where the fog magnified
The houses either side of that sad street,
So they seemed like two wharves the ebbing flood
Leaves desolate by the river-side. A mist.
Unclean and yellow, inundated space —
A scene that would have pleased an actor's soul.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 163
Then suddenly an aged man, whose rags
Were yellow as the rainy sky, whose looks
Should have brought alms in floods upon his head.
Without the misery gleaming in his eye.
Appeared before me; and his pupils seemed
To have been washed with gall; the bitter frost
Sharpened his glance; and from his chin a beard
Sword-stiff and ragged, Judas-like stuck forth.
He was not bent but broken: his backbone
Made a so true right angle with his legs,
That, as he walked, the ta,pping stick which gave
The finish to the picture, made him seem
Like some infirm and stumbling quadruped
Or a three-legged Jew. Through snow and mud
He walked with troubled and uncertain gait,
As though his sabots trod upon the dead.
Indifferent and hostile to the world.
His double followed him: tatters and stick
And back and eye and beard, all were the same;
Out of the same Hell, indistinguishable,
These centenarian twins, these spectres odd.
Trod the same pace toward some end unknown.
To what fell complot was I then exposed?
Humiliated by what evil chance?
For as the minutes one by one went by
Seven times I saw this sinister old man
Repeat his image there before my eyes!
Let him who smiles at my inquietude,
Who never trembled at a fear like mine,
Know that in their decrepitude's despite
These seven old hideous monsters had the mien
Of beings immortal.
i64 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Then, I thought, must I,
Undying, contemplate the awful eighth;
Inexorable, fatal, and ironic double;
Disgusting Phoenix, father of himself
And his own son? In terror then I turned
My back upon the infernal band, and fled
To my own place, and closed my door; distraught
And like a drunkard who sees all things twice,
With feverish troubled spirit, chilly and sick,
Wounded by mystery and absurdity!
In vain my reason tried to cross the bar,
The whirling storm but drove her back again;
And my soul tossed, and tossed, an outworn wreck,
Mastless, upon a monstrous, shoreless sea.
THE LITTLE OLD WOMEN
Deep in the tortuous folds of ancient towns.
Where all, even horror, to enchantment turns,
I watch, obedient to my fatal mood,
For the decrepit, strange and charming beings,
The dislocated monsters that of old
Were lovely women — Lais or Eponine!
Hunchbacked and broken, crooked though they be,
Let us still love them, for they still have souls.
They creep along wrapped in their chilly rags,
Beneath the whipping of the wicked wind,
They tremble when an omnibus rolls by.
And at their sides, a relic of the past,
A little flower-embroidered satchel hangs.
They trot about, most like to marionettes;
They drag themselves, as does a wounded beast;
Or dance unwillingly as a clapping bell
Where hangs and swings a demon without pity.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 165
Though they be broken they have piercing eyes,
That shine like pools where water sleeps at night;
The astonished and divine eyes of a child
Who laughs at all that glitters in the world.
Have you not seen that most old women's shrouds
Are little like the shroud of a dead child?
Wise Death, in token of his happy whim.
Wraps old and young in one enfolding sheet.
And when I see a phantom, frail and wan.
Traverse the swarming picture that is Paris,
It ever seems as though the delicate thing
Trod with soft steps towards a cradle new.
And then I wonder, seeing the twisted form.
How many times must workmen change the shape
Of boxes where at length such limbs are laid?
These eyes are wells brimmed with a million tears;
Crucibles where the cooling metal pales —
Mysterious eyes that are strong charms to him
Whose life-long nurse has been austere Disaster.
The love-sick vestal of the old "Frasciti";
Priestess of Thalia, alas! whose name
Only the prompter knows and he is dead;
Bygone celebrities that in bygone days
The Tivoli o'ershadowed in their bloom;
All charm me; yet among these beings frail '
Three, turning pain to honey-sweetness, said
To the Devotion that had lent them wings:
"Lift me, O powerful Hippogriffe, to the skies" —
One by her country to despair was driven;
One by her husband overwhelmed with grief;
One wounded by her child. Madonna-like;
Each could have made a river with her tears.
i66 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Oft have I followed one of these old women,
One among others, when the falling sun
Reddened the heavens with a crimson wound —
Pensive, apart, she rested on a bench
To hear the brazen music of the band,
Played by the soldiers in the public park
To pour some courage into citizens' hearts,
On golden eves when all the world revives.
Proud and erect she drank the music in.
The lively and the warlike call to arms;
Her eyes blinked like an ancient eagle's eyes;
Her forehead seemed to await the laurel crown I
Thus you do wander, uncomplaining Stoics,
Through all the chaos of the living town:
Mothers with bleeding hearts, saints, courtesans,
Whose names of yore were on the lips of all;
Who were all glory and all grace, and now
None know you; and the brutish drunkard stops,
Insulting you with his derisive love;
And cowardly urchins call behind your back.
Ashamed of living, withered shadows all.
With fear-bowed backs you creep beside the walls,
And none salute you, destined to loneliness!
Refuse of Time ripe for Eternity!
But I, who watch you tenderly afar.
With unquiet eyes on your uncertain steps.
As though I were your father, I — O wonder! —
Unknown to you taste secret, hidden joy.
I see your maiden passions bud and bloom.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 167
Sombre or luminous, and your lost days
Unroll before me while my heart enjoys
All your old vices, and my soul expands
To all the virtues that have once been yours.
Ruined! and my sisters! O congenerate hearts,
Octogenarian Eves o'er whom is stretched
God's awful claw, where will you be to-morrow?
A MADRIGAL OF SORROW
What do I care though you be wise?
Be sad, be beautiful; your tears
But add one more charm to your eyes,
As streams to valleys where they rise;
And fairer every flower appears
After the storm. I love you most
When joy has fled your brow downcast;
When your heart is in horror lost.
And o'er your present like a ghost
Floats the dark shadow of the past.
I love you when the teardrop flows,
Hotter than blood, from your large eye;
When I would hush you to repose
Your heavy pain breaks forth and grows
Into a loud and tortured cry.
And then, voluptuousness divine!
Delicious ritual and profound!
I drink in every sob like wine,
And dream that in your deep heart shine
The pearls wherein your eyes were drowned.
i68 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
I know your heart, which overflows
With outworn loves long cast aside,
Still like a furnace flames and glows,
. And you within your breast enclose
A damned soul's unbending pride;
But till your dreams without release
Reflect the leaping flames of hell;
Till in a nightmare without cease
You dream of poison to bring peace,
And love cold steel and powder well;
And tremble at each opened door,
And feel for every man distrust,
And shudder at the striking hour —
Till then you have not felt the power
Of Irresistible Disgust.
My queen, my slave, whose love is fear,
When you awaken shuddering.
Until that awful hour be here,
You cannot say at midnight drear:
"I am your equal, O my King!"
MIST AND RAIN
Autumns and winters, springs of mire and rain,
Seasons of sleep, I sing your praises loud.
For thus I love to wrap my heart and brain
In some dim tomb beneath a vapoury shroud
In the wide plain where revels the cold wind.
Through long nights when the weathercock whirls round.
More free than in warm summer day my mind
Lifts wide her raven pinions from the ground.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 169
Unto a heart filled with funereal things
That since old days hoar frosts have gathered on, .
Naught is more sweet, O pallid, queenly springs,
Than the long pageant of your shadows wan,
Unless it be on moonless eves to weep
On some chance bed and rock our griefs to sleep.
Fair is the sun when first he flames above,
Flinging his joy down in a happy beam ;
And happy he who can salute with love
The sunset far more glorious than a dream.
Flower, stream, and furrow! — I have seen them all
In the sun's eye swoon like one trembling heart-
Though it be late let us with speed depart
To catch at least one last ray ere it fall I
But I pursue the fading god in vain,
For conquering Night makes firm her dark domain.
Mist and gloom fall, and terrors glide between.
And graveyard odours in the shadow swim,
And my faint footsteps on the marsh's rim,
Bruise the cold snail and crawling toad unseen.
Remember, my Beloved, what thing we met
By the roadside on that sweet summer day;
There on a grassy couch with pebbles set,
A loathsome body lay.
170 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
The wanton limbs stiff-stretched into the air,
Steaming with exhalations vile and dank,
In ruthless cynic fashion had laid bare
The swollen side and flank.
On this decay the sun shone hot from heaven
As though with chemic heat to broil and bum.
And unto Nature all that she had given
A hundredfold return.
The sky smiled down upon the horror there
As on a flower that opens to the day;
So awful an infection smote the air,
Almost you swooned away.
The swarming flies hummed on the putrid side,
Whence poured the maggots in a darkling stream.
That ran along these tatters of life's pride
With a liquescent gleam.
And like a wave the maggots rose and fell,
The murmuring flies swirled round in busy strife:
It seemed as though a vague breath came to swell
And multiply with life
The hideous corpse. From all this living world
A music as of wind and water ran,
Or as of grain in rhythmic motion swirled
By the swift winnower's fan.
And then the vague forms like a dream died out.
Or like some distant scene that slowly falls
Upon the artist's canvas, that with doubt
He only half recalls.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 171
A homeless dog behind the boulders lay
And watched us both with angry eyes forlorn,
Waiting a chance to come and take away
The morsel she had torn.
And you, even you, will be like this drear thing,
A vile infection man may not endure;
Star that I yearn to! Sun that lights my spring!
O passionate and pure!
Yes, such will you be, Queen of every grace!
When the last sacramental words are said;
And beneath grass and flowers that lovely face
Moulders among the dead.
Then, O Beloved, whisper to the worm
That crawls up to devour you with a kiss,
That I still guard in memory the dear form
Of love that comes to this!
Here is a woman, richly clad and fair,
Who in her wine dips her long, heavy hair;
Love's claws, and that sharp poison which is sin,'
Are dulled against the granite of her skin.
Death she defies, Debauch she smiles upon,
For their sharp scythe-like talons every one
Pass by her in their all-destructive play;
Leaving her beauty till a later day.
Goddess she walks; sultana in her leisure;
She has Mohammed's faith that heaven is pleasure,
And bids all men forget the world's alaVms
Upon her breast, between her open arms.
172 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
She knows, and she believes, this sterile maid,
Without whom the world's onward dream would fade,
That bodily beauty is the supreme gift
Which may from every sin the terror lift.
Hell she ignores, and Purgatory defies ;
And when black Night shall roll before her eyes,
She will look straight in Death's grim face forlorn,
Without remorse or hate — as one new-born.
Like pensive herds at rest upon the sands,
These to the sea-horizons turn their eyes;
Out of their folded feet and clinging hands
Bitter sharp tremblings and soft languors rise.
Some tread the thicket by the babbling stream.
Their hearts with untold secrets ill at ease;
Calling the lover of their childhood's dream,
They wound the green bark of the shooting trees.
Others like sisters wander, grave and slow,
Among the rocks haunted by spectres thin.
Where Antony saw as larvae surge and flow
The veined bare breasts that tempted him to sin.
Some, when the resinous torch of burning wood
Flares in lost pagan caverns dark and deep.
Call thee to quench the fever in their blood,
Bacchus, who singest old remorse to sleep!
Then there are those the scapular bedights,
Whose long white vestments hide the whip's red stain,
Who mix, in sombre woods on lonely nights.
The foam of pleasure with the tears of pain.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 173
O virgins, demons, monsters, martyrs! ye
Who scorn whatever actual appears;
Saints, satyrs, seekers of Infinity,
So full of cries, so full of bitter tears;
Ye whom my soul has followed into hell,
I love and pity, O sad sisters mine,
Your thirsts unquenched, your pains no tongue can tell,
And your great hearts, those urns of love divine!
In a burnt, ashen land, where no herb grew,
I to the winds my cries of anguish threw;
And in my thoughts, in that sad place apart,
Pricked gently with the poignard o'er my heart.
Then in full noon above my head a cloud
Descended tempest-swollen, and a crowd
Of wild, lascivious spirits huddled there.
The cruel and curious demons of the air,
Who coldly to consider me began;
Then, as a crowd jeers some unhappy man,
Exchanging gestures, winking with their eyes — •
I heard a laughing and a whispering rise:
"Let us at leisure contemplate this clown.
This shadow of Hamlet aping Hamlet's frown.
With wandering eyes and hair upon the wind.
Is't not a pity that this empty mind.
This tramp, this actor out of work, this droll.
Because he knows how to assume a role
Should dream that eagles and insects, streams and woods,
Stand still to hear him chaunt his dolorous moods?
Even unto us, who made these ancient things.
The fool his public lamentation sings."
174 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
With pride as lofty as the towering cloud,
I would have stilled these clamouring demons loud,
And turned in scorn my sovereign head away
Had I not seen — O sight to dim the day! —
There in the middle of the troupe obscene
The proud and peerless beauty of my Queen 1
She laughed with them at all my dark distress,
And gave to each in turn a vile caress.
THE SOUL OF WINE
One eve in the bottle sang the soul of wine:
"Man, unto thee, dear disinherited,
I sing a song of love and light divine —
Prisoned in glass beneath my seals of red.
"I know thou labourest on the hill of fire.
In sweat and pain beneath a flaming sun.
To give the life and soul my vines desire,
And I am grateful for thy labours done.
"For I find joys unnumbered when I lave
The throat of man by travail long outworn.
And his hot bosom is a sweeter grave
Of sounder sleep than my cold caves forlorn.
"Hearest thou not the echoing Sabbath sound?
The hope that whispers in my trembling breast?
Thy elbows on the table! gaze around;
Glorify me with joy and be at rest.
"To thy wife's eyes I'll bring their long-lost gleam,
I'll bring back to thy child his strength and light,
To him, life's fragile athlete I will seem ^
Rare oil that firms his muscles for the fight.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 175
"I flow in man's heart as ambrosia flows;
The grain the eternal Sower casts in the sod —
From our first loves the first fair verse arose,
Flower-like aspiring to the heavens and God!"
THE WINE OF LOVERS
Space rolls to-day her splendour round!
Unbridled, spurless, without bound,
Mount we upon the wings of wine
For skies fantastic and divine!
Let us, like angels tortured by
Some wild delirious phantasy,
Follow the far-off mirage bom
In the blue crystal of the mom.
And gently balanced on the wing
Of the wild whirlwind we will ride,
Rejoicing with the joyous thing.
My sister, floating side by side.
Fly we unceasing whither gleams
The distant heaven of my dreams.
THE DEATH OF LOVERS
There shall be couches whence faint odours rise,
Divans like sepulchres, deep and profound;
Strange flowers that bloomed beneath diviner skies
The death-bed of our love shall breathe around.
And guarding their last embers till the end,
Our hearts shall be the torches of the shrine,
And their two leaping flames shall fade and blend
In the twin mirrors of your soul and mine.
;i76 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
And through the eve of rose and mystic blue
A beam of love shall pass from me to you,
Like a long sigh charged with a last farewell;
And later still an angel, flinging wide
The gates, shall bring to life with joyful spell
The tarnished mirrors and the flames that died.
THE DEATH OF THE POOR
Death is consoler and Death brings to life;
The end of all, the solitary hope;
We, drunk with Death's elixir, face the strife.
Take heart, and mount till eve the weary slope.
Across the storm, the hoar-frost, and the snow.
Death on our dark horizon pulses clear;
Death is the famous hostel we all know.
Where we may rest and sleep and have good cheer.
Death is an angel whose magnetic palms
Bring dreams of ecstasy and slumberous calms
To smooth the beds of naked men and poor.
Death is the mystic granary of God;
The poor man's purse; his fatherland of yore;
The Gate that opens into heavens untrodl
The tribe prophetic with the eyes of fire
Went forth last night; their little ones at rest
Each on his mother's back, with his desire
Set on the ready treasure of her breast.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 177
Laden with shining arms the men-folk tread
By the long wagons where their goods lie hidden;
They watch the heaven with eyes grown wearied
Of hopeless dreams that come to them unbidden.
The grasshopper, from out his sandy screen,
Watching them pass redoubles his shrill song;
Dian, who loves them, makes the grass more green.
And makes the rock run water for this throng
Of ever-wandering ones Xvhose calm eyes see
Familiar realms of darkness yet to be.
FRANCISCO ME^ LAUDES
Novis te cantabo chordis,
O novelletum quod ludis
In solitudine cordis.
Esto sertis implicata,
O fcemina delicata
Per quam solvuntur peccata
Sicut beneficum Lethe,
Hauriam oscula de te,
Quae imbuta es magnete.
Quum vitiorum tempestas
Turbabat omnes semitas,
Velut Stella salutaris
In naufragiis amaris . . .
Suspendam cor tuis aris!
178 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Piscina plena virtutis,
Fons aeternae juventutis,
Labris vocem redde mutis!
Quod erat spurcum, cremasti;
Quod rudius, exaequasti;
Quod debile, confirmastil
In fame mea taberaa,
In nocte mea lucema,
Recte me semper guberna.
Adde nunc vires viribus,
Duke balneum suavibus,
Meos circa lumbos mica,
O castitatis lorica,
Aqua tincta seraphica;
Patera gemmis corusca,
Panis salsus, mollis esca,
Divinum vinum, Francisca!
I WOULD, when I compose my solemn verse,
Sleep near the heaven as do astrologers.
Near the high bells, and with a dreaming mind
Hear their calm hymns blown to me on the wind.
Out of my tower, with chin upon my hands,
I'll watch the singing, babbling humEin bands;
And see clock-towers like spars against the sky,
And heavens that bring thoughts of eternity;
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 179
And softly, through the mist, will watch the birth
Of stars in heaven and lamplight on the earth;
The threads of smoke that rise above the town;
The moon that pours her pale enchantment down.
Seasons will pass till Autumn fades the rose;
And when comes Winter with his weary snows,
I'll shut the doors and window-casements tight,
And build my faery palace in the night.
Then I will dream of blue horizons deep;
Of gardens where the marble fountains weep;
Of kisses, and of ever-singing birds —
A sinless Idyll built of innocent words.
And Trouble, knocking at my window-pane
And at my closet door, shall knock in vain;
I will not heed him with his stealthy tread,
Nor from my reverie uplift my head;
For I will plunge deep in the pleasure still
Of summoning the spring-time with my will,
Drawing the sun out of my heart, and there
With burning thoughts making a summer air.
The world is equal to the child's desire
Who plays with pictures by his nursery fire —
How vast the world by lamplight seems 1 How small
When memory's eyes look back, remembering all! —
i8o THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
One morning we set forth with thoughts aflame,
Or heart o'erladen with desire or shame;
And cradle, to the song of surge and breeze,
Our own infinity on the finite seas.
Some flee the memory of their childhood's home;'
And others flee their fatherland; and some,
Star-gazers drowned within a woman's eyes,
Flee from the tyrant Circe's witcheries;
And, lest they still be changed to beasts, take flight
For the embrasured heavens, and space, and light.
Till one by one the stains her kisses made
In biting cold and burning sunlight fade.
But the true voyagers are they who part
From all they love because a wandering heart
Drives them to fly the Fate they cannot fly;
Whose call is ever "On! " — they know not why.
Their thoughts are like the clouds that veil a star;"
They dream of change as warriors dream of war;
And strange wild wishes never twice the same:
Desires no mortal man can give a name.
We are like whirling tops and rolling balls — '
For even when the sleepy night-time falls.
Old Curiosity still thrusts us on.
Like the cruel Angel who goads forth the sun.
The end of fate fades ever through the air,
And, being nowhere, may be anywhere
Where a man runs, hope waking in his breast,
For ever like a madman, seeking rest.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL i8i
Our souls are wandering ships outwearied ;
And one upon the bridge asks: "What's ahead?'*
The topman's voice with an exultant sound
Cries: "Love and Glory!" — then we run aground.
Each isle the pilot signals when 'tis late,
Is El Dorado, promised us by fate —
Imagination, spite of her belief.
Finds, in the light of dawn, a barren reef.
Oh the poor seeker after lands that fleel
Shall we not bind and cast into the sea
This drunken sailor whose ecstatic mood
Makes bitterer still the water's weary flood?
Such is an old tramp wandering in the mire,
Dreaming the paradise of his own desire,
Discovering cities of enchanted sleep
Where'er the light shines on a rubbish heap.
Strange voyagers, what tales of noble deeds
Deep in your dim sea- weary eyes one reads!
Open the casket where your memories are,
And show each jewel, fashioned from a star;
For I would travel without sail or wind,
And so, to lift the sorrow from my mind,
Let your long memories of sea-days far fled
Pass o'er my spirit like a sail outspread.
What have you seen?
i82 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
"We have seen waves and stars,
And lost sea-beaches, and known many wars.
And notwithstanding war and hope and fear,
We were as weary there as we are here.
"The lights that on the violet sea poured down,
The suns that set behind some far-off town.
Lit in our hearts the unquiet wish to fly
Deep in the glimmering distance of the sky;
"The loveliest countries that rich cities bless.
Never contained the strange wild loveliness
By fate and chance shaped from the floating cloud — ■
And we were always sorrowful and proud!
"Desire from joy gains strength in weightier measure.
Desire, old tree who draw'st thy sap from pleasure.
Though thy bark thickens as the years pass by,
Thine arduous branches rise towards the sky;
"And wilt thou still grow taller, tree more fair
Than the tall cypress?
— ^Thus have we, with care,
"Gathered some flowers to please your eager mood.
Brothers who dream that distant things are good!
"We have seen many a jewel-glimmering throne;
And bowed to Idols when wild horns were blown
In palaces whose faery pomp and gleam
To your rich men would be a ruinous dream;
"And robes that were a madness to the eyes;
Women whose teeth and nails were stained with dyes;
Wise jugglers round whose neck the serpent winds "
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 183
And then, and then what more?
"0 childish minds!
"Forget not that which we found everywhere,
From top to bottom of the fatal stair,
Above, beneath, around us and within.
The weary pageant of immortal sin.
"We have seen woman, stupid slave and proud,
Before her own frail, foolish beauty bowed;
And man, a greedy, cruel, lascivious fool,
Slave of the slave, a ripple in a pool ;
"The martyrs groan, the headsman's merry mood;
And banquets seasoned and perfumed with blood;
Poison, that gives the tyrant's power the slip;
And nations amorous of the brutal whip;
"Many religions not unlike our own,
All in full flight for heaven's resplendent throne;
And Sanctity, seeking delight in pain.
Like a sick man of his own sickness vain;
"And mad mortality, drunk with its own power,
As foolish now as in a bygone hour,
Shouting, in presence of the tortured Christ:
*I curse thee, mine own Image sacrificed.'
"And silly monks in love with Lunacy,
Fleeing the troops herded by destiny,
Who seek for peace in opiate slumber furled —
Such is the pageant of the rolling world!"
i84 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
O bitter knowledge that the wanderers gainl
The world says our own age is little and vain ;
For ever, yesterday, to-day, to-morrow,
'Tis horror's oasis in the sands of sorrow.
Must we depart? If you can rest, remain;
Part, if you must. Some fly, some cower in vain,
Hoping that Time, the grim and eager foe,
Will pass them by; and some run to and fro
Like the Apostles or the Wandering Jew;
Go where they will, the Slayer goes there too!
And there are some, and these are of the wise,
Who die as soon as birth has lit their eyes.
But when at length the Slayer treads us low.
We will have hope and cry, " 'Tis time to go!"
As when of old we parted for Cathay
With wind-blown hair and eyes upon the bay.
We will embark upon the Shadowy Sea,
Like youthful wanderers for the first time free —
Hear you the lovely and funereal voice
That sings: O come all ye whose wandering joys
Are set upon the scented Lotus flower,
For here we sell the fruit's miraculous boon;
Come ye and drink the sweet and sleepy power
Of the enchanted, endless afternoon.
O Death, old Captain, it is time, put forth!
We have grown weary of the gloomy north;
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 185
Though sea and sky are black as ink, lift saill
Our hearts are full of light and will not fail.
O pour thy sleepy poison in the cup!
The fire within the heart so burns us up
That we would wander Hell and Heaven through,
Deep in the Unknown seeking something newt
FROM THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Translated by W. J. Robertson
When, by the sovran will of Powers Eternal,
The poet passed into this weary world,
His mother, filled with fears and doubts infernal,
Clenching her hands towards Heaven these curses
— ^"Why rather did I not within me treasure
"A knot of serpents than this thing of scorn?
"Accursed be the night of fleeting pleasure
"Whence in my womb this chastisement was borne!
"Since thou hast chosen me to be the woman
"Whose loathsome fruitfulness her husband shames,
"Who may not cast aside this birth inhuman,
"As one that flings love-tokens to the flames,
"The hatred that on me thy vengeance launches
"On this thwart creature I will pour in flood:
"So twist the sapling that its withered branches
"Shall never once put forth a cankered budt"
Regorging thus the venom of her malice.
And misconceiving thy decrees sublime.
In deep Gehenna's gulf she fills the chalice
Of torments destined to maternal crime.
Yet, safely sheltered by his viewless angel.
The Childe forsaken revels in the Sun;
190 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
And all his food and drink is an evangel
Of nectared sweets, sent by the Heavenly One.
He communes with the clouds, knows the wind's voices,
And on his pilgrimage enchanted sings;
Seeing how like the wild bird he rejoices
The hovering Spirit weeps and folds his wings.
All those he fain would love shrink back in terror,
Or, boldened by his fearlessness elate.
Seek to seduce him into sin and error,
And flesh on him the fierceness of their hate.
In bread and wine, wherewith his soul is nourished.
They mix their ashes and foul spume impure;
Lying they cast aside the things he cherished,
And curse the chance that made his steps their lure.
His spouse goes crying in the public places:
"Since he doth choose my beauty to adore,
"Aping those ancient idols Time defaces
"I would regild my glory as of yore.
"Nard, balm and myrrh shall tempt till he desires me
"With blandishments, with dainties and with wine,
"Laughing if in a heart that so admires me
"I may usurp the sovranty divine 1
"Until aweary of love's impious orgies,
"Fastening on him my fingers firm and frail,
"These claws, keen as the harpy's when she gorges,
"Shall in the secret of his heart prevail.
"Then, thrilled and trembling like a young bird captured,
"The bleeding heart shall from his breast be torn;
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 191
"To glut his maw my wanton hound, enraptured,
"Shall see me fling it to the earth in scorn."
Heavenward, where he beholds a throne resplendent,
The poet lifts his hands, devout and proud,
And the vast lightnings of a soul transcendent
Veil from his gaze awhile the furious crowd: —
"Blessed be thou, my God, that givest sorrow,
"Sole remedy divine for things unclean,
"Whence souls robust a healing virtue borrow,
"That tempers them for sacred joys serene!
"I know thou hast ordained in blissful regions
"A place, a welcome in the festal bowers,
"To call the poet with thy holy Legions,
"Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers.
"I know that Sorrow is the strength of Heaven,
" 'Gainst which in vain strive ravenous Earth and Hell,
"And that his crown must be of mysteries woven
"Whereof all worlds and ages hold the spell.
"But not antique Palmyra's buried treasure,
"Pearls of the sea, rare metal, precious gem,
"Though set by thine own hand could fill the measure
"Of bieauty for his radiant diadem;
"For this thy light alone, intense and tender,
"Flows from the primal source of effluence pure,
"Whereof all mortal eyes, though bright their splendour,
"Are but the broken glass and glimpse obscure."
Spleen et Ideal.
192 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
To bear so vast a load of grief
Thy courage, Sisyphus, I crave!
My heart against the task is brave,
But Art is long and Time is brief.
Far from Fame's proud sepulchral arches,
Towards a graveyard lone and dumb.
My sad heart, like a muffled drum.
Goes beating slow funereal marches.
— Full many a shrouded jewel sleeps
In dark oblivion, lost in deeps
Unknown to pick or plummet's sound:
Full many a weeping blossom flings
Her perfume, sweet as secret things,
In silent solitudes profound.
. " BEAUTY
My face is a marmoreal dream, O mortals!
And on my breast all men are bruised in turn.
So moulded that the poet's love may bum
Mute and eternal as the earth's cold portals.
Throned like a Sphinx unveiled in the blue deep,
A heart of snow my swan- white beauty muffles;
I hate the line that undulates and ruffles:
And never do I laugh and never weep.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 193
The poets, prone beneath my presence towering
With stately port of proudest obelisks,
Worship with rites austere, their days devouring;
For I have charms to keep their love, pure disks
That make all things more beautiful and tender:
My large eyes, radiant with eternal splendour!
No, never can these frail ephemeral creatures.
The withered offspring of a worthless age,
These buskined limbs, these false and painted features,
The hunger of a heart like mine assuage.
Leave to the laureate of sickly posies
Gavami's hospital sylphs, a simpering choir 1
Vainly I seek among those pallid roses
One blossom that allures my red desire.
Thou with my soul's abysmal dreams be blended,
Lady Macbeth, in crime superb and splendid,
A dream of ^Eschylus flowered in cold eclipse
Of Northern suns! Thou, Night, inspire my passion,
Calm child of Angelo, coiling in strange fashion
Thy large limbs moulded for a Titan's lips!
HYMN TO BEAUTY
Be thou from Hell upsprung or Heaven descended.
Beauty! thy look demoniac and divine
Pours good and evil things confusedly blended,
And therefore art thou likened unto wine.
194 ' THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Thine eye with dawii is filled, with twilight dwindles,
Like winds of night thou sprinklest perfumes mild;
Thy kiss, that is a spell, the child's heart kindles,
Thy mouth, a chalice, makes the man a child.
Fallen from the stars or risen from gulfs of error,
Fate dogs thy glamoured garments like a slave;
With wanton hands thou scatterest joy and terror,
And rulest over all, cold as the grave.
Thou tramplest on the dead, scornful and cruel.
Horror coils like an amulet round thine arms,
Crime on thy superb bosom is a jewel
That dances amorously among its charms.
The dazzled moth that flies to thee, the candle.
Shrivels and burns, blessing thy fatal flame;
The lover that dies fawning o'er thy sandal
Fondles his tomb and breathes the adored name.
What if from Heaven or Hell thou com'st, immortal
Beauty? O sphinx-like monster, since alone
Thine eye, thy smile, thy hand opens the portal
Of the Infinite I love and have not known.
What if from God or Satan be the evangel?
Thou my sole Queen! Witch of the velvet eyes!
Since with thy fragrance, rhythm and light, O Angel I
In a less hideous world time swiftlier flies.
Hymne a la Beaute.
When, with closed eyes in the warm autumn night,
I breathe the fragrance of thy bosom bare,
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 195
My dream unfurls a clime of loveliest air,
Drenched in the fiery sun's unclouded light.
An indolent island dowered with heaven's delight,
Trees singular and fruits of savour rare,
Men having sinewy frames robust and spare.
And women whose clear eyes are wondrous bright.
Led by thy fragrance to those shores I hail
A charmed harbour thronged with mast and sail,
Still wearied with the quivering sea's unrest;
What time the scent of the green tamarinds
That thrills the air and fills my swelling breast
Blends with the mariners' song and the sea-winds.
In undulant robes with nacreous sheen impearled
She walks as in some stately saraband;
Or like lithe snakes by sacred charmers curled
In cadence wreathing on the slender wand.
Calm as blue wastes of sky and desert sand
That watch unmoved the sorrows of this world;
With slow regardless sweep as on the strand
The long swell of the woven sea-waves swirled.
Her polished orbs are like a mystic gem,
And, while this strange and symbolled being links
The inviolate angel and the antique sphinx.
196 THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Insphered in gold, steel, light and diadem
The splendour of a lifeless star endows
With clear cold majesty the barren spouse.
Launch me, O music, whither on the soundless
Sea my star gleams pale!
I beneath cloudy cope or rapt in boundless
iEther set my sail;
With breast outblown, swollen by the wind that urges
Swelling sheets, I scale
The summit of the wave whose vexed surges
Night from me doth veil;
A labouring vessel's passions in my pulses
Thrill the shuddering sense;
The wind that wafts, the tempest that convulses,
O'er the gulf immense
Swing me. — ^Anon flat calm and clearer air
Glass my soul's despair!
THE SPIRITUAL DAWN
When on some wallowing soul the roseate East
Dawns with the Ideal that awakes and gnaws,
By vengeful working of mysterious laws
An angel rises in the drowsed beast.
The inaccessible blue of the soul-sphere
To him whose grovelling dream remorse doth gall
Yawns wide as when the gulfs of space enthral.
So, heavenly Goddess, Spirit pure and clear.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL 197
Even on the reeking ruins of vile shame
Thy rosy vision, beautiful and bright,
For ever floats on my enlarged sight.
Thus sunlight blackens the pale taper-flame;
And thus is thy victorious phantom one,
O soul of splendour, with the immortal Sun!
THE FLAWED BELL
Bitter and sweet it is, in winter night,
Hard by the flickering fire that smokes, to list
While far-off memories rise in sad slow flight,
With chimes that echo singing through the mist.
O blessed be the bell whose vigorous throat,
In spite of age alert, with strength unspent.
Utters religiously his faithful note.
Like an old warrior watching near the tent I
My soul, alEis! is flawed, and when despair
Would people with her songs the chill night-air
Too oft they faint in hoarse enfeebled tones,
As when a wounded man forgotten moans
By the red pool, beneath a heap of dead.
And dyiiig writhes in frenzy on his bed.
La Cloche Felee.
THREE POEMS FROM BAUDELAIRE
Translated by Richard Herne Shepherd
Recall to mind the sight we saw, my soul,
That soft, sweet summer day:
Upon a bed of flints a carrion foul,
Just as we tura'd the way
Its legs erected, wanton-like, in air,
Burning and sweating past.
In unconcem'd and cynic sort laid bare
To view its noisome breast.
The sun lit up the rottenness with gold,
To bake it well inclined,
And give great Nature back a hundredfold
All she together join'd.
The sky regarded as the carcass proud
Oped flower-like to the day;
So strong the odour, on the grass you vow'd
You thought to faint away.
The flies the putrid belly buzz'd about,
Whence black battalions throng
Of maggots, like thick liquid flowing out
The living rags along.
202 THREE POEMS FROM BAUDELAIRE
And as a wave they mounted and went down,
Or darted sparkling wide:
As if the body, by a wild breath blown,
Lived as it multiplied.
From all this life a music strange there ran,
Like wind and running burns:
Or like the wheat a winnower in his fan
With rhythmic movement turns.
The forms wore off, and as a dream grew faint,
An outline dimly shown.
And which the artist finishes to paint
From memory alone.
Behind the rocks watch'd us with angry eye
A bitch disturb 'd in theft.
Waiting to take, till we had pass'd her by
The morsel she had left.
Yet you will be like that corruption too,
Like that infection prove —
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature, you,
My angel and my love!
Queen of the graces, you will even be so.
When, the last ritual said,
Beneath the grass and the fat flowers you go,
To mould among the dead.
Then, O my beauty, tell the insatiate worm,
Who wastes you with his kiss,
I have kept the godlike essence and the form
Of perishable bliss!
THREE POEMS FROM BAUDELAIRE 203
WEEPING AND WANDERING
Say, Agatha, if at times your spirit turns
Far from the black sea of the city's mud.
To another ocean, where the splendour bums
All blue, and clear, and deep as maidenhood?
Say, Agatha, if your spirit thither turns?
The boundless sea consoles the weary mind!
What demon gave the sea — that chantress hoarse
To the huge organ of the chiding wind —
The function grand to rock us like a nurse?
The boundless ocean soothes the jaded mindl
O car and frigate, bear me far away.
For here our tears moisten the very day.
Is't true that Agatha's sad heart at times
Says, far from sorrows, from remorse, from crimes,
Remove me, car, and, frigate, bear away?
O perfumed paradise, how far removed.
Where 'neath a clear sky all is love and joy,
Where all we love is worthy to be loved,
And pleasure drowns the heart, but does not cloy.
O perfumed paradise, so far removed!
But the green paradise of childlike loves.
The walks, the songs, the kisses, and the flowers,
The violins dying behind the hills, the hours
Of evening and the wine-flasks in the groves.
But the green paradise of early loves,
204 THREE POEMS FROM BAUDELAIRE
The innocent paradise, full of stolen Joys,
Is't farther off than ev'n the Indian main?
Can we recall it with our plaintive cries,
Or give it life, with silvery voice, again,
The innocent paradise, full of furtive joys?
Mother of Latin sports and Greek delights,
Where kisses languishing or pleasureful,
Warm as the suns, as the water-melons cool,
Adorn the glorious days and sleepless nights.
Mother of Latin sports and Greek delights.
Lesbos, where kisses are as waterfalls
That fearless into gulfs unfathom'd leap,
Now run with sobs, now slip with gentle brawls,
Stormy and secret, manifold and deep;
Lesbos, where kisses are as waterfalls!
Lesbos, where Phryne Phryne to her draws.
Where ne'er a sigh did echoless expire.
As Paphos' equal thee the stars admire.
Nor Venus envies Sappho without cause!
Lesbos, where Phryne Phr3nie to her draws,
Lesbos, the land of warm and languorous nights,
Where by their mirrors seeking sterile good,
The girls with hollow eyes, in soft delights.
Caress the ripe fruits of their womanhood,
Lesbos, the land of warm and languorous nights.
THREE POEMS FROM BAUDELAIRE 205
Leave, leave old Plato's austere eye to frown;
Pardon is thine for kisses' sweet excess,
Queen of the land of amiable renown,
And for exhaustless subtleties of bliss,
Leave, leave old Plato's austere eye to frown.
Pardon is' thine for the eternal pain
That on the ambitious hearts for ever lies,
Whom far from us the radiant smile could gain.
Seen dimly on the verge of other skies;
Pardon is thine for the eternal pain!
Which of the gods will dare thy judge to be,
And to condemn thy brow with labour pale.
Not having balanced in his golden scale
The flood of tears thy brooks pour'd in the sea?
Which of the gods will dare thy judge to be?
What boot the laws of just and of unjust?
Great-hearted virgins, honour of the isles,
Lo, your religion also is august.
And love at hell and heaven together smiles I
What boot the laws oof just and of unjust?
For Lesbos chose me out from all my peers,
To sing the secret of her maids in flower,
Opening the mystery dark from childhood's hour
Of frantic laughters, mix'd with sombre tears;
For Lesbos chose me out from all my peers.
And since I from Leucate's top survey,
Like a sentinel with piercing eye and true.
Watching for brig and frigate night and day.
Whose distant outlines quiver in the blue,
And since I from Leucate's top survey,
2o6 THREE POEMS FROM BAUDELAIRE
To learn if kind and merciful the sea,
And midst the sobs that make the rock resound,
Brings back some eve to pardoning Lesbos, free
The worshipp'd corpse of Sappho, who made her bound
To learn if kind and merciful the sea!
Of her the man-like lover-poetess.
In her sad pallor more than Venus fair!
The azure eye yields to that black eye, where
The cloudy circle tells of the distress
Of her the man-like lover-poetess!
Fairer than Venus risen on the world,
Pouring the treasures of her aspect mild,
The radiance of her fair white youth unfurl'd
On Ocean old enchanted with his child;
Fairer than Venus risen on the world.
Of Sappho, who, blaspheming, died that day
When trampling on the rite and sacred creed,
She made her body fair the supreme prey
Of one whose pride punish 'd the impious deed
Of Sappho who, blaspheming, died that day.
And since that time it is that Lesbos moans.
And, spite the homage which the whole world pays.
Is drunk each night with cries of pain and groans,
Her desert shores unto the heavens do raise.
And since that time it is that Lesbos moans!
INTIMATE PAPERS FROM THE
UNPUBLISHED WORKS OF BAUDELAIRE
Translated by Joseph T. Shipley
MY HEART LAID BARE
The following pages (not included in the "complete"
French edition) contain notes found after the death of
Baudelaire; disconnected fragments; echoes; pistils of
ideas, promising wondrous blossom, to which no pollen
came. They epitomize the moral and intellectual life
of the artist. In his own art, Baudelaire is the creator
of a new mood, in which Maeterlinck and Verlaine are
among his disciples, where Swinburne and Wilde have
followed him ; in painting and in music, his criticism was
seeking in 1850 all that the later development of these
arts has brought forth. The reflection of that brilliant
mind glows in these intimate pages.
In the almost absolute isolation in which he confined
himself more and more, Baudelaire, who had so loved to
expand in conversation, felt the need of a confidant that
would not importune him with useless counsels, nor with
expressions of sympathy he would have repulsed, if only
through dandyism. Paper alone could be that confidant.
The poet is wholly within these journals, with his reli-
gious, political, moral and literary theories, above all,
with the explicit evidence of his weaknesses and his
griefs. What skilled theologian has made a more haughty
confession than this: "There are none great among men
save the poet, the priest and the soldier; the man who
sings, the man who blesses, the man who sacrifices others
and himself. The rest is made for the whip"? What
210 INTIMATE PAPERS
political economist has made a more absolute declaration
of principles than this: "There is no reasonable, stable
government save the aristocratic. Monarchy and repub-
lic, based on democracy, are equally weak and absurd"?
His ideal of the greatness of the individual is derived
logically from his conception of an aristocratic society
under the triumvirate of the poet, the priest and the
soldier, "Before all, to be a great man and a saint for
one's self;" that, for Baudelaire, is the one ambition
worthy of a superior nature. He has indicated the prin-
cipal traits of the ideal "dandy" that he has sought im-
ceasingly. The dandy is not only the most elegant of
men, of the most original and discriminating tastes, which
he exercises in his habits, in the choice of his books or his
mistress; he is armed with a will superior to all obstacles,
opposing caprice with invincible energy, and correcting
in himself the inevitable faults of nature with all the
resources of art.
The two manuscripts in which these ideals are scat-
tered differ so slightly that it might seem impossible to
decide which should be read first. A closer examination,
however, indicates that Rockets is of the period about
ten years before the author's death, while My Heart
Laid Bare belongs entirely to the days when he felt the
first attacks of the illness that was to bear him off. No
effort has been made to group the paragraphs according
to topic; they are printed as they appear in the manu-
script (the page divisions ot which are indicated by
the successive numbers) . The documents furnish an in-
teresting supplement to the more formal works of the
poet, and a valuable contribution to literature.
INTIMATE PAPERS 2H
Even if God did not exist, religion would still be holy
God is the only being who, to govern, need not even
That which is created by the mind lives more truly
Love is the desire of prostitution. There is not even
one noble pleasure which cannot be reduced to prosti-
At a play, at a ball, each one finds pleasure in all.
What is art? Prostitution.
The pleasure of being in a crowd is a mysterious ex-
pression of joy in the multiplication of number.
All is number. Number is in all. Number is in the
individual. Intoxication is a number.
The -desire of productive concentration ought to re-
place, in a mature being, the desire of deperdition.
Love may spring from a generous emotion: desire of
prostitution; but it is soon corrupted by the desire of
Love would like to come out of itself, to merge itself
in its victim, as the victor in the vanquished, while still
preserving the privileges of the conqueror.
The delights of whoso keeps a mistress partake at once
of the angel and of the proprietor. Charity and ferocity.
They are even independent of sex, of beauty, of the ani-
Immense depth of thought in popular phrases, hol-
lowed out by generations of ants.
212 INTIMATE PAPERS
Of the femininity of the Church, as the reason for its
Of the color violet (restrained, mysterious, veiled love,
color of canoness).
The priest is immense, because he makes one believe in
a host of astounding matters. That the Church wants
to do all and to be all, is a law of the human mind.
Mankind worships authority. Priests are the servants
and sectaries of the imagination. The throne and the
altar, revolutionary maxim. Religious intoxication of
great cities. Pantheism. I, that is all; all, that is I.
I think I have already written in my notes that love
is very like torture or a surgical operation. But that
idea can be developed in the bitterest way. Even though
two lovers are deeply smitten and filled with reciprocal
desire, one of the two will always be more calm, or less
enraptured than the other. He or she is the surgeon, or
the hangman; the other is the patient, the victim. Do
you hear those sighs, preludes of a tragedy of shame,
those groanings, those cries, those throat-rattlings? Who
has not breathed them, who has not irresistibly sum-
moned them forth? And what worse do you find in the
torments applied by painstaking torturers? Those far-
away eyes of the somnambulist, those limbs the muscles
of which twitch and grow taut as under the action of a
galvanic battery; drunkenness, delirium, opium, in their
most infuriate consequences, surely yield no such fright-
ful, no such curious examples. And the human counte-
nance," which Ovid thought fashioned to reflect the stars,
behold! it speaks only of insane ferocity, or is spread in
INTIMATE PAPERS 213
a species of death. For, certainly, I believe it would be
sacrilege to apply the word "ecstasy" to that sort of de-
Frightful play, in which one of the players must
lose control of himself!
Once, in my presence, it was asked in what lay the
greatest pleasure of love. Some one answered naturally:
in receiving, and another: in giving one's self. The
former said: pleasure of pride; and the latter: delight of
humility! All these blackguards spoke like the Imitation
of Christ. — Finally, an impudent Utopian came forward
to affirm that the greatest pleasure of love is to create
citizens for the fatherland.
As for me, I said: The one and the supreme bliss of
love rests in the certainty of doing evil. Both man a;nd
woman know, from birth, that in evil lies all bliss.
When a man takes to his bed, almost all his friends
have a secret desire to see him die; some, to establish the
fact that his health is inferior to theirs; others, in the
disinterested hope of studying an agony.
The arabesque is the most spiritual of designs.
The man of letters rouses the capitals and conveys a
taste for intellectual gymnastics.
We love women in proportion as they are strangers to
us. To love intelligent women is a pleasure of the peder-
ast. Thus bestiality excludes pederasty.
The spirit of buffoonery need not exclude charity; but
Enthusiasm applied to other things than abstractions
is a sign of weakness and disease.
The thin is more naked, more indecent, than the fat.
214 INTIMATE PAPERS
Tragic sky. Term of an abstract order applied to a
Man drinks light with the atmosphere. Thus they are
right who say that the night air is not healthful for labor.
Man is bom a fireworshipper.
Fireworks, conflagrations, incendiaries.
If one imagine a born fireworshipper bom a Parsee,
one could create a story.
Misunderstanding of a countenance is the result of
the eclipse of the real image by the hallucination bom
Know then the joys of a bitter life, and pray, pray
ceaselessly. Prayer is a store-house of energy. (Altar
of the will. Moral dynamics. The sorcery of the sacra-
ments. Hygiene of the soul.)
Music deepens the sky.
Jean Jacques said that he could not enter a restaurant
without a certain emotion. For a timid nature, a ticket
office somewhat resembles the tribunal of hell.
Life has but one true attraction: the attraction of
play. But if we care not whether we win or lose?
Nations have great men only in spite of themselves —
like families. They make every effort not to have them.
Therefore, the great man must, in order to exist, possess
an offensive force greater than the power of resistance
developed by millions of individuals.
Apropos of sleep, that sinister adventure of all our
nights, we might say that men go to bed daily with an
audacity that would be incomprehensible if we did not
know that it is the result of ignorance of the danger.
INTIMATE PAPERS . 217
There are tortoise-shell, hides against which scorn is
no longer a vengeance.
Many friends, many gloves.* Those who have ad-
mired me were despised, I might even say were despic-
able, if I sought to flatter honest men.
Girardin talk Latin! Pecudesque locutae.
He belongs to an infidel Society to send Robert Hou-
din to the Arabs to convert them from the miracles.
These great, beautiful vessels, imperceptibly swaying
(rocking) on the tranquil waters, these sturdy ships, with
their idle, homesick air, do they not ask us, in a silent
tongue: When do we sail for happiness?
Not to forget the marvellous in drama, sorcery, ro-
The background, the atmosphere in which a whole tale
should be steeped. (See the Fall of the House of Usher,
and refer this to the profound sensations of hashish and
Are there mathematical insanities, and idiots who
think that two and two make three? In other words, can
hallucination, if the words do not cry out (at being
coupled), invade the affairs of pure reason? If, when a
man is sunk in habits of sloth, of revery, of idleness, to
the point of constantly deferring the important thing to
the morrow, another man were to wake him in the morn-
ing with biting lash, and were to whip him pitilessly
until, unable to work for pleasure, he worked for fear,
* 'for fear of the itch' is added elsewhere.
2i6 INTIMATE PAPERS
that man, that flogger, would he not be truly the friend,
the benefactor? Besides, one might declare that pleas-
ure would follow, much more justly than is said "Love
comes after marriage."
Similarly, in politics, the true saint is he who lashes
and destroys the people, for the people's good.
That which is not slightly deformed seems to lack feel-
ing; whence it follows that irregularity, that is, the un-
foreseen, surprise, astonishment, are an essential part
and characteristic of beauty.
Theodore de Banville is not exactly materialistic; he
is luminous. His poetry represents happy hours.
For each letter from a creditor, write fifty lines on
an abstract subject, and you are saved.
Translation and paraphrase of the Passion. To refer
everything to that.
Spiritual and physical joys born of the storm, thunder
and lightning, tocsin of loving, shadowy memories, of
years gone by.
I have found the definition of Beauty, of my Beauty.
It is something ardent and sad, something slightly vague,
giving conjecture wing. I will, if you please, apply my
idea to a palpable object, for instance, to the most in-
teresting object in society, to a woman's countenance. A
seductive and beautiful head, a woman's head, I mean,
is a head that brings dreams at once — confusedly — of
voluptuousness and of sadness; which bears a suggestion
of melancholy, of weariness, even of satiety, — or per-
INTIMATE PAPERS 217
haps an opposite emotion, an ardor, a wish to live,
mingled with pent up bitterness, as springs frohi priva-
tion or from despair. Mystery, regret, are also charac-
teristics of beauty.
A handsome male head need not convey, save per-
haps in the eyes of a woman, that suggestion of voluptu-
ousness, which, in a female countenance, is generally tan-
talizing in proportion as the face is melancholy. But
that head also will bear something ardent and sad, spirit-
ual needs, ambitions vaguely receding, the thought of a
rumbling, unused power, sometimes the thought of a
vengeful lack of feeling (for the ideal tj^je of the dandy
must not be neglected here) , sometimes also — and that is
one of the most interesting characteristics of beauty —
mystery, and finally (let me have the courage to con-
fess to what degree I feel myself modern in esthetics)
misfortune. I do not claim that Joy cannot be associat-
ed with Beauty, but I do say that Joy is one of its most
vulgar ornaments, while Melancholy is, as it were, its
illustrious companion, to such a degree that I can scarcely
conceive (is my brain an enchanted mirror?) a type of
beauty in which is no Misfortune. Following — others
might say: obsessed by — these ideas, you can see that it
would be difficult for me not to conclude that the most
perfect type of manly Beauty is Satan, — as pictured by
Auto-idolatry. Poetic harmony of character. Eu-
rhythmy of character and faculties. Of conserving all
the faculties. Of augmenting all the faculties. A cult
(Magianism, evocatory sorcery).
The sacrifice and the vow are the highest formulae and
symbols of exchange.
2i8 INTIMATE PAPERS
Two fundamental literary qualities: the supernatural,
and irony. Individual glance, aspect in which things
maintain themselves before the writer, then a Satanic
turn of mind. The supernatural includes the general
color and the accent, i. e., intensity, sonority, limpidity,
vibration, depth and resonance in space and in time.
There are moments in life when time and space are
deeper, and the intensity of life immeasurably increased.
Of magic applied to the rousing of the great dead, to
the reestablishment and the perfecting of health.
Inspiration always comes, when a man wishes, but it
does not always go, when he wishes.
Of writing and of speech, considered as magic opera-
tions, evocatory sorcery.
Of Airs in Woman
The charming airs, which constitute Beauty, are: The
blase air, the bored air, the giddy air, the impudent air,
the cold air, the disdainful air, the commanding air, the
willing air, the mischievous air, the sickly air, the feline
air, a mingling of childishness, nonchalance and malice.
In certain almost supernatural moods of the soul the
depth of life reveals itself to the full, in the scene, ordi-
nary as it may be, beneath one's eyes. It becomes the
As I was crossing the boulevard, and as I hurried to
escape the wagons, my aureole slipped off and fell into
the mire of the macadam. Fortunately, I had time to
pick it up; but a moment after the unlucky idea en-
tered my mind that it was an ill omen ; after that the idea
clung to me, and gave me no rest the entire day.
Of the worship of one's self in love, from the point of
INTIMATE PAPERS 219
view of health, of hygiene, of the toilet, of eloquence
and of spiritual nobility.
There is a magic operation in prayer. Prayer is one
of the great forces of intellectual dynamics. It is like an
The rosary is a medium, a vehicle; it is prayer brought
within reach of all.
Labor, progressive and accumulative force, bearing in-
terest like capital, in faculties as in results.
Play, intermittent energy, even though guided by
science, will be conquered, fruitful as it may be, by labor,
slight as it may be, but sustained.
If a poet asked the state for the right to have a few
bourgeois in his stable, there would be considerable sur-
prise; while, if a bourgeois asked for roast poet, it would
seem quite natural.
"Kitten, puss, pussy, my cat, my wolf, my little mon-
key, big monkey, big serpent, my little melancholy mon-
key." Such freaks of too often repeated terms, too fre-
quent bestial appellations, reveal a satanic side in love.
Have not the devils the forms of beasts? The Camel of
Cazotte, camel, devil, and woman.
A man went to a shooting gallery, accompanied by his
wife. He selected a puppet, and said to his wife: "I
imagine that's you." He closed his eyes and beheaded
the puppet. Then he said, kissing his companion's
hand: "Dear angel, how I thank you for my skill."
When I have inspired universal disgust and horror, I
shall have won solitude.
This book is not made for my wives, my daughters
or my sisters. I have few of such things.
God is a scandal, a scandal that rebounds.
220 INTIMATE PAPERS
Do not scorn any one's sensibility. One's sensibility,
that is one's genius.
By an ardent concubinage, one can imagine the joys
of a young household.
The precocious taste for women. I used to confuse
the odor of fur with the odor of woman. I remember.
. . . Finally, I loved my mother for her elegance. Thus
I was a precocious dandy.
The Protestant countries lack two elements essential
to the happiness of a well-bred man: gallantry and de-
The mingling of the grotesque and the tragic is pleas-
ing to the mind, as discords to blase ears.
What is vintoxicating in bad taste, is the aristocratic
pleasure of displeasing.
Germany expresses meditation by line, as England
There is, in the birth of every sublime thought, a ner-
vous shock that is felt in the cerebellum.
Spain puts into its religion the ferocity natural to
STYLE. — ^The eternal note, the eternal and cosmo-
politan style. Chateaubriand, Alph. Rabbe, Edgar Poe.
Why democrats do not love cats is easy to determine.
The cat is beautiful; it awakens ideas of luxury, of
cleanliness, of voluptuousness, etc.
A little labor, repeated three hundred and sixty-five
times, yields three hundred and sixty-five times a little
money, that is, an enormous sum. At the same time
fame is won.
INTIMATE PAPERS 221
To create a pounced drawing is genius. I ought to
create a pounced drawing.
My mother is fantastic; one must fear her and please
To give one's self over to Satan, what does that mean?
What more absurd than progress since man, as is*
proven by everyday fact, is always like and equal to
man, that is to say, always in the savage state! What
are the perils of the forest and the prairie beside the daily
shocks and conflicts of civilization? Whether man en-
snare his dupe on the boulevard, or pierce his prey in
unknown forests, is he not eternal man, i. e., the most
perfect beast of pray?
They say I am thirty years of age ; but if I have lived
three minutes in one . . ., am I not ninety?
. . . Work, is it not the salt that preserves embalmed
I think that the infinite and mysterious charm that
rests in the contemplation of a ship, especially of a ves-
sel in n^otion, springs, in the first place, from regularity
and symmetry (which are of the primordial needs of the
human mind, as much as complexity and harmony) —
and, secondly, from the successive multiplication and
generation of all the curves and imaginary figures cut
in space by the real elements of the object.
The poetic idea which this movement in lines produces
is the hypothesis of a vast, immense, complex but euryth-
mic being, of a creature full of genius, suffering and
sighing all human sighs and all human ambitions.
Civilized races, that always speak so stupidly of sav-
ages and barbarians, soon, as d'Aurevilly says, you will
no longer be good enough to be idolaters.
222 INTIMATE PAPERS
Stoicism, religion that has but one sacrament: suicide!
Conceive a canvas for a lyric or fairy buffoonery, for a
pantomime, and transplant it into a serious novel. Bathe
the whole in an abnormal, dreamy atmosphere, — in the
atmosphere of the great days. Let there be something
soothing, — something even serene, in passion. Regions
of pure poetry.
What is not a priesthood nowadays? Youth itself is a
priesthood — so youth tells us.
Man, i. e., every one, is so naturally depraved that he
suffers less from the universal abasement than from
the establishment of a sensible hierarchy.
The world is coming to an end. The only reason for
which it can continue is that it exists. How weak that
reason is, compared to all that announce the opposite,
particularly to this: What has the world henceforth to
do beneath the sky? For, supposing that it continue to
exist materially, would it be an existence worthy of the
name and of the Historical Dictionary? I do not say
that the world will be reduced to the expedients and
the comic disorder of the South American Republics,
that perhaps we shall return to the savage state, and
that we shall go, across the grassy ruins of our civiliza-
tion, seeking our pasture, gun in hand. No; for these
adventures presuppose a remnant of vital energy, echo
of the earliest ages. New example and new victims of
the inexorable moral laws, we shall perish by that throu^
which we thought to live. The mechanical will so have
Americanized us, progress will so have atrophied all our
spiritual side, that naught, in the sanguine, sacrilegious
INTIMATE PAPERS 223
or unnatural dreams of the Utopians can be compared
to the actual outcome. I ask every thinking man to
show me what of life remains. Of religion, I believe it
useless to speak, and to seek the remnants, since to take
the trouble to deny God is the only scandal in that field.
Property virtually disappeared with the suppression of
the right of the first-bom; but the time will come when
humanity, like an avenging ogre, will snatch their last
morsel from those who think they are the legitimate
heirs of the revolutions. Still, that will not be the su-
The human imagination can conceive, without too
much trouble, republics or other community states,
worthy of some glory, if directed by consecrated men, by
definite aristocrats. But it is not particularly in politi-
cal institutions that there will be manifest the universal
ruin, or the universal progress; for the name matters
little. It will be in the debasement of the heart. Need I
say that the little of the political remaining will writhe
painfully in the embrace of the general bestiality, and
that governments will be forced, in order to maintain
themselves and to create a phantom of order, to revert to
means which will make our actual humanity shudder,
although so hardened? Then, the son will flee from his
family not at eighteen years, but at twelve, emancipated
by his gluttonous precocity; he will flee, not in search of
heroic adventures, not to deliver a beautiful prisoner in a
tower, not to immortalize a garret by sublime thoughts,
but to establish a trade, to amass wealth, and to compete
with his infamous papa, founder and stockholder of a
journal which will spread the light and which will cause
the century to be looked upon as an abettor of supersti-
tion. Then, the wanderers, the outcasts, those who have
had several lovers, and who were once called angels, in
recognition of the heedlessness which shines, light of luck,
224 INTIMATE PAPERS
in their existence logical as evil — then these, I say, will
be no more than a pitiless wisdom, a wisdom that will
condemn all, lacking money, all, even the faults of the
senses! Then, that which will resemble virtue, what do
I say? — all that is not ardor toward Plutus will be con-
sidered enormously ridiculous. Justice, if in that fortu-
nate period justice can still exist, will interdict all citi-
zens who cannot make a fortune. Your wife, O Bourgeois!
your chaste partner, whose legitimacy is the poetry of
your existence, thenceforth, introducing into legality an
irreproachable infamy, zealous and loving guardian of
your strongbox, will be no more than the ideal of the.
kept woman. Your daughter, with infantile hopes of
marriage, will dream in her cradle of selling herself for a
million, and you yourself, O Bourgeois, still less poet
than you are to-day, you will see nothing amiss; you will
regret naught. For there are things in men that strength-
en and prosper as others weaken and decline ; and, thanks
to the progress of the times, you will have left of your
entrails only the viscera! These times are perhaps quite
near; who knows even that they have not come, and
that the thickness of oui skins is not the only obstacle
that prevents us from appreciating the environment in
which we breathe?
As for me, who sometimes feel in me the ridicule of a
prophet, I know that I shall never find in myself the
charity of a doctor. Lost in this vile world, jostled by
the crowds, I am as a tired man who sees behind him,
in the depths of the years, only disillusion and bitterness^
and ahead, only a storm that carries nothing new, neither
knowledge nor grief. The evening that man stole from
fate a few hours of pleasure, cradled in his digestion,
forgetful — as far as possible — of the past, content with
the present and resigned to the future, intoxicated with
his sangfroid and his dandyism, proud of being less base
INTIMATE PAPERS , 225
than those who passed, he said, watching the smoke of
his cigar: ''What does it matter to me where these con-
sciences are going?"
I think I have achieved what mechanics call an extra.
However, I shall retain these pages, — because I want to
date my sadness.
MY HEART LAID BARE
Of the vaporization and the centralization of the ego.
All lies in that.
Of a certain sensual joy in the society of extrava-
(I plan to begin My Heart Laid Bare at any point, in
any way, and to continue it from day to day, following
the inspiration of the occasion and the moment, provided
that the inspiration be vivid.)
The first comer, if he can entertain, has the right to
speak of himself.
I understand that some people desert a cause to dis-
cover what they can experience in serving another.
It might be pleasant to bei alternately victim and exe-
Woman is the opposite of the dandy, Thus she must
inspire horror. Woman is hungry, and she wants to eat,
thirsty, and she wants to drink. She is proud, and she
wants to be . . .
226 INTIMATE PAPERS
Woman is natural, that is to say, abominable.
Also, she is always vulgar, that is, the opposite of the
In regard to the Legion of Honor. He who seeks the
cross seems to say: "If I am not decorated for having
done my duty, I shall not go ahead,"
If a man has merit, what is the good in decorating
him? If he has not, then he can be decorated, since
that will give him a lustre.
To consent to be decorated, is to recognize that the
state has the right to judge you, to adorn you, et cetera.
Furthermore, if not pride. Christian humility should
defend the cross.
Calculation in favor of God. Nothing exists without
an end. Hence my existence has- an end. What end? I
do not know. Hence it is not I that have marked it.
Hence it is some one wiser than I. Hence I must pray to
some one to enlighten me. That is the wisest part.
The dandy ought to aspire uninterruptedly to be sub-
lime. He should live and sleep before a mirror.
Analysis of counter-religions; example: sacred prosti-
What is sacred prostitution? Nervous excitation. Pagan
mysticism. Mysticism, link between paganism and Chris-
tianity, Paganism and Christianity are reciprocal proofs.
Revolution and the worship of Reason prove the con-
cept of Sacrifice.
Superstition is the reservoir of all truths.
There is in all change something. at once agreeable and
infamous, something that smacks of infidelity and of
INTIMATE PAPERS 227
moving day. That is enough to explain the French
My intoxication in 1848. Of what sort was that in-
toxication? Desire of vengeance. Natural pleasure in
demolishing. Literary drunkenness; memories of read-
The isth of May. Ever the desire of destruction-
Legitimate desire, if all that is natural is legitimate.
The horrors of June. Madness of the people and mad-
ness of the bourgeoisie. Natural love of crime.
My fury at the coup d'etat. How many gunshots sus-
tained! Another Buonaparte! What a disgrace!
Still, all is quieted. Has not the President the ri^t
What Emperor Napoleon III is? What he is worth?
To find the explanation of his nature, and of his provi-
To be a useful man has always seemed to me a hideous
1848 was amusing only because every one was build-
ing Utopias like castles in Spain.
1848 was charming only by the very excess of the
Robespierre is estimable only because he has made
some fine phrases.
The Revolution, by sacrifice, confirmed superstition.
Politiqice. I have no convictions, as the men of my
age understand the term, because I have no ambition.
228 INTIMATE PAPERS
There is no basis in me for conviction.
There is a certain cowardice, or rather a certain soft-
ness, in honest men.
The brigands alone are convinced — of what? That
they must succeed. Therefore, they succeed.
Why should I succeed, when I haven't even the de-
sire to try?
Glorious empires can be founded on crime, and noble
religions on imposture.
However, I have some convictions, in a higher sense,
that cannot be understood by the men of my day.
Feeling of solitiide, from my childhood. Despite my
family, and in the midst of my comrades above all, — feel-
ing of an eternally solitary destiny.
Withal, an intense desire for life and for pleasure.
Almost all our life is spent in idle curiosity. In re-
venge, there are things which ought to rouse human curi-
osity to the highest degree, and which, to judge by their
commonplace activity, inspire it in no one!
Where are our dead friends? WTiy are we here? Do
we come from somewhere? What is liberty? Can it
harmonize with providential law? Is the number of souls
finite or infinite? And the number of habitable worlds?
Nations have great men only in spite of themselves.
Hence the great man is the conqueror of all his nation.
The modern ridiculous religions: Moliere, Beranger,
Belief in progress is a doctrine of the slothful, a doc-
trine of the Belgians. It is the individual who relies on
his neighbors to tend to his affairs. There can be no
progress (true, that is, moral) save in the individual
INTIMATE PAPERS 229
and by the individual himself. But the world is com-
posed of folks who can think only in common, in bands.
Thus the Belgian societies. There are also folks who can
amuse themselves only in droves. The true hero finds
his pleasure alone.
Eternal superiority of the dandy. What is the dandy?
My opinions on the theatre. What I have alvfays
found most beautiful in the theatre, in my childhood, and
still to-day, is lustre, — a beautiful object, luminous, crys-
talline, complex, circular, symmetrical.
However, I do not absolutely deny the value of dra-
matic literature. Only, I should like the actors to be
mounted on high pattens, to wear masks more expressive
than the human face, and to speak through megaphones;
finally, I should like the female parts to be played bx
After all, lustre has always seemed to me the principal
actor, seen through the large or the small end of the
One must work, if not through desire, at least in de-
pair, since, as is well established, to work is less boring
than to seek amusement.
There are in every man, at every moment, two simul-
taneous postulations, one toward God, the other toward
The invocation of God, or spirituality, is a desire to
rise; that of Satan, or bestiality, is a joy in descent. To
the latter should be attributed love for women.
230 INTIMATE PAPERS
The joys which spring from these two loves conform to
their two natures.
Intoxication of humanity; great picture to be made, in
the sense of charity, in the sense of libertinage, in the
Kterary or dramaturgic sense.
Torture, as the art of discovering the truth, is barbaric
nonsense; it is the application of a material means to a
Capital punishment is the result of a mystic idea, to-
tally misunderstood to-day. The death penalty has not
as its object to preserve society, materially at least. Its
object is the preservation (spiritually) of society and the
g:uilty one. In order that the sacrifice be perfect, there
must be assent and joy on the part of the victim. To
give chloroform to one condemned to death would be an
impiety, for it would be to wipe out the consciousness
of his grandeur as victim and to destroy his chance of
As to torture, it is bom of the infamous side of the
heart of man, athirst for voluptuousness. Cruelty and
voluptuousness, identical sensations, like extreme heat
and extreme cold.
A dandy does nothing. Can you imagine a dandy
talking to the people, save to scoff at them?
There is no reasonable, stable government save the
INTIMATE PAPERS 231
Monarchy and republic, based on democracy, are
equally weak and absurd.
Immense nausea of placards.
There exist but three respectable beings: the priest,
the warrior, the poet. To know, to kill, and to create.
Other men are serfs or slaves, created for the stable,
that is, to exercise what are called professions.
Observe that those who advocate the abolition of capi-
tal punishment are more or less interested in its abolish-
ment. Often, they are executioners. The matter may
be summarized thus: "I wish to be able to cut off your
head, but you shall not touch mine."
Those who abolish souls (materialists) necessarily
abolish hell; they are, beyond all doubt, interested.
At the least, they are men that are afraid to live again,
Mme. de Metternich, although a princess, has forgot-
ten to answer me, in regard to what I said of her and of
Wagner. Manners of the Nineteenth Century.
The woman Sand is the Prudhomme of immorality.
She has always been a moralist. Only formerly she prac-
ticed amorality. Also she has never been an artist. She
has the famous fluent style, dear to the bourgeois.
She is stupid, she is heavy, she is a chatterbox. She
has, in moral matters, the same depth of judgment and
the same delicacy of feeling as innkeepers and kept worn-
232 INTIMATE PAPERS
en. What she has said of her mother; what she has said
of poetry. Her love for the workingman.
George Sand is one of those old ingenues who do not
wish to quit the boards.
See the preface to Mile. La Quintinie, where she claims
that true Christians do not believe in hell. Sand is for
the God of good folks, the god of innkeepers and of do-
She has good reason to wish to wif)e out hell.
It must not be thought that the devil tempts only men
of genius. He doubtless scorns imbeciles, but he does
not disdain their assistance. Quite the contrary, he
founds great hopes on them.
Take George Sand. She is especially, and above all
things, a great blockhead; but she is possessed. It is the
devil who has persuaded her to trust in her good heart
and her good sense, so that she might persuade all other
great blockheads to trust in their good heart and their
I cannot think of that stupid creature without a shud-
der of horror. If I were to meet her, I could not keep
myself from hurling a basin of holy water at her.
I am bored in France, especially as every one resembles
Emerson forgot Voltaire in his "Representative Men."
He could have made a fine chapter entitled Voltaire or
The Antipoet, the king of boobies, the prince of the shal-
low, the anti-artist, the preacher of innkeepers, the father
who "lived in a shoe" of the editors of the century.
INTIMATE PAPERS 233
In the "Ears of the Earl of Chesterfield," Voltaire jokes
at the expense of that immortal soul which resided, for
nine months, in the midst of excrement and urine. Vol-
taire, like all the slothful, hates mystery,
(At least, he might have divined in that environment
the malice or satire of Providence against love, and, in
the process of generation, a sign of original sin. In fact,
we can make love only with excretory organs.)
Unable to suppress love, the Church wished at least
to disinfect it, and created marriage.
Portrait of the literary riff-raff. Doctor Tavemus
Crapulosus Pedantissimus. His portrait in the manner of
Praxiteles. His pipe, his opinions, his Hegelianism, his
filth, his ideas of art, his spleen, his jealousy. A fine
picture of modem youth.
Theology. What is the fall? If it is unity become
duality, it is God who has fallen. In other words, is not
creation the fall of God?
Dandyism. What is the superior man? It is not the
specialist. It is the man of leisure and broad educa-
tion. To be rich and to love labor.
Why does the man of parts prefer maidens to women
of the world, though they are equally stupid? Find this
234 INTIMATE PAPERS
There are women who are like the ribbon of the Legion
of Honor. They are wanted no more, because they have
been sullied by certain men. Just as I would not put on
the breeches of a mangy fellow.
What is annoying in love, is that it is a crime in which
one cannot do without an accomplice.
Study of the great disease of horror of the home. Rea-
sons for the disease.
Indignation at the universal fatuity of all classes, of
all beings, of both sexes, of every age,
Man loves man so much that when he flees the city,
it is still to seek the crowd, that is, to rebuild the city in
Of love, of the predilection of the French for military
metaphors. Here every metaphor wears a moustache.
Militant literature. — To man the breach, — To bear the
standard aloft, — To maintain the standard high and firm.
— To hurl oneself into the thick of the fight, — One of
the veterans. All these fine phrases apply generally to
the college scouts and to the do-nothings of the coffee-
To add to the military metaphors: Soldier of the ju-
dicial press (Bertin). The poets of strife. The littera-
teurs of the advance guard. This habitude of military
metaphors denotes minds not military, but made for dis-
cipline, that is, for conformity, minds bom domesticated,
Belgian minds, which can think only in society.
INTIMATE PAPERS 235
Desire of pleasure binds us to the present. Care for
our health suspends us on the future.
He who attaches himself to pleasure, that is, to the
present, is to me as one who, rolling down an incline,
and trying to cling to the shrubs, uproots them and
bears them away in his fall.
Before all to be a great man and a saint for one's
In the end, before all history and before the French
people, the great glory of Napoleon III will have been
to prove that the first comer, by seizing the telegraph
and the national press, can govern a great nation.
Imbeciles are those who think that such things can
be accomplished without the permission of the people, —
and those who believe that glory can be founded only on
What is love? The need of coming out of one's self.
Man is an animal of worship. To worship is to sacri-
fice one's self and to prostitute one's self.
Thus all love is prostitution.
The most prostituted being is the being beyond com-
pare, is. God, since he is the soul supreme for every in-
dividual, since he is the common, inexhaustible reservoir
Do not chastise me in my mother, yor chastise my
mother because of me. — I commend to you the souls of
my father and Mariette. — Give me each day strength to
236 INTIMATE PAPERS
perform the present duty and thus to become a hero and
A chapter on the indestructible, eternal, universal and
ingenious human ferocity. Of the love of blood, of the
intoxication of blood, of the intoxication of crowds. Of
the intoxication of the executed criminal (Damiens).
I have always been astonished that women are al-
lowed to enter church. What conversation can they
have with God?
The eternal Venus (caprice, hysteria, whim) is one of
the seductive forms of the devil.
Woman cannot separate the soul from the body. She
is simple, like the animals. — A satirist would say it is be-
cause she has only a body.
Veuillot is so coarse and such an enemy of the arts
that one would think all the democracy of the world
was harbored in his breast.
Development of the portrait. Supremacy of the pure
idea in the Christian as in the Babouvian communist.
Fanaticism of humility. Not even to aspire to under-
In love, as in almost all human affairs, the entente
cordial is the result of misunderstanding. The misunder-
standing is pleasure. The man cries: "Oh my angel!"
INTIMATE PAPERS 237
The woman coos: "Mammal Mammal" And the two
imbeciles are persuaded that they are thinking in con-
cert. — The insuperable gulf, whidh bars communication,
Why is the spread of the sea so infinitely and so
Because the sea conveys the thought both of immens-
ity and of movement. Six or seven leagues are for man
the radius of the infinite. ■ 'Tis a diminutive infinite.
What matter, if it suffice to suggest the whole? Twelve
or fourteen leagues of liquid in movement are enough to
convey the highest ideal of beauty which is offered to
man in his transitory habitation.
There is naught interesting on earth save its religions.
There is a universal religion made for the alchemists
of thought, a religion which is disengaged from man, con-
sidered as a heavenly reminder.
Saint-Marc Girardin has spoken one word that will
endure: "Let us be mediocre!" Set that beside this of
Robespierre: "Those that do not believe in the immor-
tality of their being, do themselves justice." The word
of Saint-Marc Girardin implies a bitter hatred of the
Theory of true civilization. It lies not in gas, nor in
steam, nor in tilting tables. It lies in the diminution of
the traces of original sin.
Nomad peoples, shepherds, hunters, farmers, even can-
238 INTIMATE PAPERS
nibals, all can rise superior in energy, in personal dig-
nity, to our races of the West. We perhaps shall be de-
It is through leisure, in part, that I have grown, — to
my great detriment; for leisure, without wealth, increases
debts; but to my great gain, in regard to sensibility,
meditation, and the faculty of dandyism and of dilet-
The young girl of editors. The young girl of editors in
chief. The young girl, scarecrow, monstrous, assassin
The young girl, what she really is. A little stupid and
a little slovenly; the greatest imbecility combined with
the greatest depravity.
There is in the young girl all the abjection of the cad
and of the school-boy.
Advice to non-communists: all is common, even God.
The Frenchman is a backyard animal so domestic that
he dare not leap any fences. See his tastes in art and
He is an animal of the Latin race; filth does not dis-
please him; in his home, and in literature, he is sca-
tophagous. He dotes on excrement. The litterateurs of
the coffee-house call that the gallic salt.
INTIMATE PAPERS 239
Princes and generations. There is equal injustice in
attributing to reigning princes the virtues and the vices
of the people they actually govern.
Those virtues and those vices should almost always,
as statistics and logic will show, be attributed to the
atmosphere of the preceding government.
Louis XIV inherits the men of Louis XIII, glory.
Napoleon I inherits the men of the Republic, glory.
Louis-Philippe inherits the men of Charles X, glory.
Napoleon III inherits the men of Louis-Philippe, dis-
It is always the preceding government that is respon-
sible for the customs of the following, in so far as a
government can be responsible for anything.
The sudden suppressions that circumstances bring to
a reign do not allow of absolute exactitude, in this law,
in regard to time. One cannot, say precisely where an in-
fluence ends, but an influence will endure in all the gen-
eration that was subjected to it in youth.
Of the hatred of youth toward those who quote. The
quoter is their enemy.
"I would place spelling itself in the hands of the hang-
man." . (Th. Gautier.)
Immovable desire of prostitution in the heart of man,
whence springs his horror of solitude. — He wishes to be
two. The genius wishes to be one, hence alone. Glory
is in remaining one, and in prostituting one's self in a
240 INTIMATE PAPERS
It is that horror of solitude, the need of forgetting his
ego in the outer flesh, that man nobly calls the need of
Two fine religions, immortally planted on the mature,
eternal obsessions of the people: the ancient phallus, and
"Vive Barbes!" or "A bas Philippe!" or "Vive la Re-
To study, in all its moods, in the works of nature and
in the works of man, the eternal and universal law of
gradation, by degrees, little by little, with forces progres-
sively increasing, like compound interest in finance.
It is the same with artistic and literary ease; it is the
same with the variable treasure of the will.
The rout of little litterateurs to be seen at funerals, dis-
tributing handshakes and commending themselves to the
memory of the letter writer. Of the funerals of famous
Moliere. — My opinion of Tartuffe is that it is not a
comedy, but a pamphlet. An atheist, if only he is well-
bred, would think, in connection with the play, that seri-
ous questions should never be betrayed to the riff-raff.
To glorify the worship of images (my great, my one,
my primitive passion). To glorify vagabondage and
what may be called bohemianism. Worship of sensa-
tion, multiplied and expressing itself in music. Refer this
Of the need of beating women.
One can chastise what one loves. Thus with children.
INTIMATE PAPERS 241
But that implies the misery of scorning what one loves.
Of cuckoldom and of cuckolds. The misery of the
cuckold. It springs from his pride, from a false concep-
tion of honor and of happiness, and from a love foolishly
turned from God to be attributed to creatures. It is ever
the worshipping animal deluded with its idol.
Music conveys the idea of space. All the arts, more or
less; since they are number and number is a translation
Daily to wish to be the greatest of men I
Nations have great men only in spite of themselves.
Apropos of the actor and of my childish dreams, a
chapter on what constitutes, in the human soul, the
calling of the actor, the glory of the actor, the art of the
actor and his situation in the world.
The theory of Legouve. Is Legouve a cold farceur, a
Swift, who tried whether France would swallow a new
absurdity? His choice. Good, in the sense that Samson
is not an actor.
Of the true greatness of pariahs. Perhaps even, virtue
harms the talents of pariahs.
Commerce is, in its essence, satanic. Commerce, is the
loan returned, it is the loan with an understanding: Re-
turn more than I gave you.
— The spirit of everything commercial is completely
— Commerce is natural, htnce it is infamous.
242 INTIMATE PAPERS
— ^The least infamous of tradesmen is he who says:
"Let us be virtuous that we may gain much more money
than the fools who are vicious." For the tradesman,
honesty itself is a speculation. Commerce is satanic, be-
cause it is one of the forms of egoism, the lowest, and
the most vile.
When Jesus Christ said: "Blessed are they that
hunger, for they shall be filled!" Jesus Christ was gam-
bling on probabilities.
The world progresses only through misunderstanding.
It is by universal misunderstanding that all the world
agrees. For if, unfortunately, they understood one an-
other, people could never agree.
The man of wit, he who will never agree with any one,
ought to strike up a liking for the conversation of idiots
and the reading of bad books. He will draw from this
bitter joys that will largely compensate for his fatigue.
Any officeholder whatsoever, a minister, a. manager of
a theater or magazine, can sometimes be an estimable
being; but he can never be admirable. He is a person
lacking personality, a being without originality, born for
the office, that is to say, for public domesticity.
God and his profundity. One can be not lacking in
wit and find in God the accomplice and friend who is al-
ways wanting. God is the eternal confidant in that
tragedy where every one is the hero. There are per-
INTIMATE PAPERS 243
haps usurers and assassins who say to God: "Lord, let
my next operation succeed!" But the prayer of these
rascally folk does not disturb the honor and the pleasure
All idea is, in itself, endowed with immortal life, like a
person. All form, even created by man, is immortal.
For form is independent of matter, and it is not mole-
cules that constitute form.
It is impossible to glance through any newspaper at
all, no matter of what day, what month, what year,
without finding in every line the most frightful signs of
human perversity, together with the most astonishing
boasts of probity, of goodness, of charity, and the most
shameless affirmations in regard to the progress of civil-
Every paper, from the first line to the last, is but a
tissue of horrors. War, crime, theft, lewdness, crimes of
princes, crimes of nations, crimes of individuals, a uni-
versal intoxication of atrocity.
And it is with this disgusting appetizer that civilized
man accompanies his every morning meal. Everything in
this world sweats crime: the magazine, the wall, the face
of man. I cannot see how a pure hand can touch a
paper without a convulsion of disgust.
The strength of the amulet demonstrated by philos-
ophy. Bored coins, talismans, every one's keepsakes.
Treatise on moral dynamics. Of the power of the sacra-
244 INTIMATE PAPERS
ments. Of my childhood, tendency to mysticism. My
conversations with God.
Of obsession. Of Possession, of Prayer and of Faith.
Moral dynamics of Jesus. (Renan thinks it ridiculous
to suppose that Jesus believed in the omnipotence, even
materially, of Prayer and of Faith.) The sacraments
are the means of this dynamics.
Of the infamy of the printing-shop, great obstacle to
the development of beauty.
In order for the law of progress to exist, every one
must wish to create it; that is, when every individual
applies himself to progress, then, and only then, human-
ity will be in progress.
This hj^othesis serves to explain the identity of two
contradictory ideas, free will and predestination. — ^Not
only is there, in the case of progress, identity of free will
and predestination, but that identity has always existed.
That identity is history, the history of nations and of
Hygiene. Projects. — The more one wills, the better
The more one works, the better one works, and the
more one wants to work. The more one produces, the
more fertile one grows.
Morally as physically, I have always had the sensa-
tion of the gulf, not only of the gulf of sleep, but the
gulf of action, of revery, of memory, of desire, of regret,
of remorse, of beauty, of number, etc.
INTIMATE PAPERS 245
I have cultivated my hysteria with joy and terror.
Now, I always have vertigo, and to-day, January 23,
1862, I felt a strange warning. I felt pass over me a
gust from the wing of imbecility.
How many presentiments and signs already sent by
God, that it is high time to act, to regard the present
moment as the most important moment, and to make
my perpetual joy of my usual torment, that is, of workl
Hygiene, Conduct, Morals. — Every moment, we are
crushed by the idea and sensation of time. And there
are only two means of escaping that nightmare, of forget-
ting it: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work
fortifies us. Let us choose.
The more we make use of one of these means, the more
the other fills us with repugnance.
One can forget time only by using it.
Everything is accomplished bit by bit.
De Maistre and Edgar Poe taught me to reason.
There is no long work but that which one dares not
begin. It becomes a nightmare.
Hygiene. — By putting off what one has to do, one
runs the risk of never being able to do it. By postponing
conversion, one risks being damned.
To heal everything, misery, disease and melancholy,
absolutely nothing is needed but the love of work.
246 INTIMATE PAPERS
Precious Notes. — Do every day what prudence and
duty dictate. If you work every day, life will be more
endurable. Work six days without a let-up. To find
fields, Know thyself. Always to be a poet, even in prose.
Grand style (nothing is more beautiful than the com-
monplace). First begin, then make use of logic and
analysis. Any hypothesis whatsoever tends to its con-
clusion. Find the daily frenzy.
Hygiene, Conduct, Morals. — Debts. Friends (my
mother, friends, myself). Thus, looo francs should be
divided into two parts of 500 francs each, and the sec-
ond divided into three.
— To do one's duty every day and trust in God for the
The one way to make money is to work in a disinter-
— Concentrated wisdom. Toilet, prayer, labor.
Prayer: charity, wisdom and strength.
Without charity, I am but a clashing cymbal.
— My humiliations have been mercies of God.
Is my egoistical phase at an end?
The gift of responding to the moment's need, exacti-
tude, in a word, should infallibly bring its recompense.
Hygiene, Conduct, Morals. — Jean 300, my mother
200, myself 300, — 800 francs a month. To work from
INTIMATE PAPERS 247
six in the morning, on an empty stomach, till noon. To
work blindly, aimlessly, like a madman. We shall see
I suppose I base my destiny on a few hours' uninter-
All is reparable. There is still time. Who knows even
if new pleasure . . . ?
I have not yet known the pleasure of a project carried
Power of the fixed idea, po\yer of hope.
The habit of doing one's duty drives out fear.
One must wish to dream and know how to dream.
The summoning of inspiration. The Art of Magic. To
set myself immediately to writing, I reason too much.
Immediate work, even poor, is worth more than
A procession of little wishes makes a mighty end.
Every recoil of the will is a particle of lost substance.
How prodigal, then, is hesitation! And judge of the
greatness of the final effort needed to repair so many
The man who prays in the evening, is a captain who
posts his sentinels. He can sleep.
Dreams of death and warnings.
Up to now I have enjoyed my memories alone; they
must be shared with another. Make a passion of the
joys of the heart.
Because I comprehend a glorious existence, I believe
myself capable of realizing it, O Jean- Jacques!
Work forcibly engenders good habits, sobriety and
chastity, consequently health, wealth, successive and pro-
gressive genius, and charity. Age quod agis.
Fish, cold baths, showers, lichen, lozenges, occasion-
ally; in addition, suppression of everything exciting.
248 INTIMATE PAPERS
Island Lichen 125 grams
White sugar 2 50 "
Steep the lichen, for twelve or fifteen hours, in a suffi-
cient quantity of cold water, then drain the water. Boil
the lichen in two liters of water, on a slow and continuous
flame, until the two liters have dwindled to one, re-
move the scum once; then add the 250 grams of sugar
and allow it to thicken to the consistency of syrup. Al-
low it to cool again. Take a large tablespoonful three
times daily, morning, noon, and night. Do not be afraid
to increase the dose, if the crises become too frequent.
Hygiene, Conduct, Method. — I swear to myself hence-
forth to take the following rules as eternal rules of my
Every morning to pray to God, reservoir of all strength
and all justice, to my father, to Mariette, and to Poe,
as intercessors; to pray to them to grant me the neces-
sary strength always to do my duty, and to grant to my
mother a life long enough to enjoy my transformation;
to work all day, or at least while my strength remains;
to trust in God, that is, in Justice itself, for the success
of my projects ; to make, every evening, a new prayer to
God, asking life and strength for my mother and for my-
self; to divide all I earn into four parts, — one for current
expenses, one for my creditors, one for my friends and
one for my mother; — to obey the precepts of strictest so-
briety, of which the first is the suppression of everything
exciting, whatever it may be.
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